In California, bring your own bag is now the law

It was bound to happen sooner or later: Plastic bags are now outlawed in the People’s Republic of California. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve written about California’s war against plastic over the past 25 years. The Plastics Industry Association (formerly SPI) used to form the front line in California to hold off this type of legislation. I used to go to Sacramento to cover the efforts of the plastics industry in California to stem the tide of legislation against plastic bags, but alas it’s done.

California bag
Image courtesy The Marmot/flickr.

In November 2016, voters approved a law by 53% to 47% to ban outright single-use, carry-out plastic bags. A Jan. 28 editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Allysia Finley said, “California’s bag ban is a classic marriage of economic protectionism and government paternalism, dressed up in environmental virtue. As with so many other progressive policies, the ban is likely to have unintended consequences.”

The hope that came with passing the law is that marine life will be saved and that climate change will be halted—over California, I suppose, or at least in San Francisco, which gave that as a benefit to banning plastic bags. The 150 bans already imposed by various cities, towns and counties in California wasn’t enough.

These laws against plastics that keep plaguing the industry do not have a scientific basis. Finley notes in her editorial, citing a 2014 report, that “only about 3% of plastic bags are produced using oil. . . . Most are made from natural gas, which is now cheap and abundant in the U.S.”

If California really wanted to be environmentally friendly, the state would also ban paper and cloth bags. If you want to see how paper bags are made, take a tour of a paper manufacturing facility, like I did a few years back on a media junket. Then tour a blown film plant (which I’ve also done), and tell me which is more environmentally friendly. Paper plants are built on rivers for a reason, and while the plant I toured noted that they clean the thousands of gallons of water used and put it back into the river, the environmental footprint to get the water, process the pulp, reclaim the water as it is pressed from the sheets of paper, clean it and put it back into the river takes a considerable amount of electricity.

To my point, Finley cited a study from the United Kingdom’s Environmental Agency that found “a paper bag, compared with a plastic one, was 3.3 times worse in terms of greenhouse gases. The study also found that paper bags resulted in more water and air pollution.”

I won’t repeat what happens with cloth bags and the e. coli illnesses that plagued San Francisco from that city’s ban on plastic bags. Cloth bags need to be washed after use in hot, soapy water to prevent germs. More water use and more electricity. But, I guess now that the California drought has been declared over due to this winter’s rainfall and snow pack, cloth bag lovers can wash away! I suppose that was a pun, or maybe not.

Finley also noted in her editorial that plastic bags actually make up a “tiny share” of litter, less than 1% in most cities, citing a 2013 survey by Environmental Resources Planning. Another survey in 2009 by Keep America Beautiful “found that plastic bags make up less than 1% of objects caught in storm drains.”

A Nov. 12, 2016, article in the Los Angeles Times said that “Elkay Plastics, a packaging distributor based in Los Angeles, called the restrictions ‘misguided.’ . . . The proposition enacts a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags that was initially passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014. Shortly after the ban was passed, the American Progressive Bag Alliance trade group qualified a referendum—Proposition 67—to repeal the measure, which had not yet gone into effect.”

Even though it has been proven that the various California bag bans have impacted employment (Los Angeles County’s employment dropped by an average of 10.4% at grocery stores, Finley noted in her editorial), “Democrats declared the law would help create jobs in California,” wrote Finley.

In-store recycling programs didn’t seem to work, as “mandated by the 2006 law,” as store owners found the program “expensive to operate and produced uncertain benefits, since few customers returned their bags,” wrote Finley.

Perhaps the customers were using them for other purposes such as garbage bags or to pick up pet litter. Taking the excess bags back just requires a little effort: I return excess bags I have to the grocery story’s recycling bin.

Manufacturing companies are leaving California, with the main destination being Texas. An article in the Nov. 11, 2015, Dallas Business Journal announced that “roughly 9,000 California companies moved their headquarters or diverted projects to out-of-state locations—mostly to Texas.” Toyota consolidated its North American headquarters and two other locations from Torrance, CA, to Plano, Texas.

A number of plastics processing companies that I’ve written about over the years have relocated from California to other states, namely Nevada and Arizona, but also to Texas. As a testament to the high cost of home ownership in California, one injection molding company owner told me a number of years ago when he moved the plant to Nevada, taking most of his employees with him, that it was the first time many of them had ever been able to afford to own a home.

The more unfriendly California becomes to manufacturing companies—and specifically to plastics—the more we’ll see out-migration from that state. An article on CNBC online announced that the California secession movement is gathering petition signatures, as that movement gains steam on the heels of the recent presidential election. The group heading the movement to make California an independent country (which would be the sixth largest economy in the world) hopes to get the initiative on the 2018 statewide ballot.

Given Californians’ distaste for plastic and most manufacturing in general, I certainly think seceding from the United States of America is worth some serious consideration.                                     

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