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On second thought, plastic really IS fantastic!

A San Francisco attorney, Stephen Joseph, has decided that plastic really is fantastic! Mr. Joseph has a new mission: to sue California cities for their bans on plastic bags.  That was according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.  He fears that banning plastic bags will increase the use of paper, also harmful to the environment.             "I love plastic," the 56-year-old attorney told the Wall Street Journal. "I have a plastic watch, and I just got new plastic glasses."

fantastic! Mr. Joseph has a new mission: to sue California cities for their bans on plastic bags.  That was according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.  He fears that banning plastic bags will increase the use of paper, also harmful to the environment.

            "I love plastic," the 56-year-old attorney told the Wall Street Journal. "I have a plastic watch, and I just got new plastic glasses."

            While this change of heart will make Mr. Joseph a lot of new friends in the plastics industry, he's gained a lot of criticism from the environmental community. He's even been accused of going over "to the dark side."

            Mr. Joseph acknowledged that lots of things hurt the environment, but the question is which is worse - paper or plastic? The WSJ points to a "peer-reviewed 2004 report conducted by Ecobilan, a consulting firm, and paid for by French supermarket chain Carrefour SA found that, while both types of bags require energy and resources to produce, it takes more water to produce paper bags than plastic bags and that paper bags emit more greenhouse gases, among other harms."

            Well, no duh! I've personally visited many plastics processing plants: injection molders, thermoformers, and film processors included. And yes, I've visited a paper manufacturer. I can tell you that the difference is night and day between the paper making process and plastics processing. The paper processing plant was way out in the boondocks - it took us a couple of hours to get there (no, I'm not revealing the state or the manufacturer).

            There was no sign, so it was a good thing that our driver knew where this paper facility was located. We went down a hill to a big river, and the plant was located on the river. Why a river? Because as the Ecobilan report noted, its takes LOTS of water to make paper.  The plant was very dirty and smelly, and I saw huge vats of pulp floating in water, saw the water being squeezed out of the pulp as the paper was made into large sheets.

            Obviously, the paper company said that the water used in the process was cleaned up and put back into the river cleaner than when it came out and into the plant. And I'm sure it was. But boy, what a dirty process!

            In mid-2008, Mr. Joseph became a spokesman for "Save the Plastic Bag Coalition," a group of bag manufacturers that now pay him "well into six figures," said the WSJ. That year he wrote to Manhattan Beach, which was planning a plastic bag ban, extolling "plastic bags as 'an excellent product that has been unfairly attacked.'" He sued and won in a court case in February 2009. In January 2010, an appellate court also ruled in Mr. Joseph's favor, according to the WSJ. The case is currently in the California Supreme Court, and both Los Angeles County and San Jose have "agreed to conduct extensive environmental reviews before enacting plastic-bag bans."

            Many in the plastics industry want the "science" to win out over the "hype" that too often hits the pages of the news media - including the plastics news media. If you want to hear a good debate, attend SPE's Antec 2011 event in Boston next month and sit in on the "Sustainability and Greenwashing Panel" in which yours truly has been invited to participate as part of the plastics industry media panel.  It might make the "paper or plastic" debate a bit easier to decide. Or not.

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