If a picture is worth a thousand words, this one from Animal Planet makes a most moving argument for eliminating the plastic option at the supermarket.
It shows an unfortunate gull that naively dined on trash and got more than a tummy ache.
Those favoring single-use bags claim that those who want to rid the planet of their pesky presence rely too heavily on such “emotional” appeals. The plastic industry wants you to believe that if banned, in addition to resulting in horrific job loss, we are throwing out the more cost-effective choice.
According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, reusable bags not only require four times more energy during the manufacturing process, but also produce four times the greenhouse-gas emissions. In fact, says the United Kingdom Environment Agency, to break even energy-wise, you would have to tote your reusable bag to the market for more than three years. How long have you toted yours?
Then there’s the suspected health hazard.
Research by Jonathan Klick (University of Pennsylvania), and Joshua D. Wright (George Mason University) found that food-borne illnesses in San Francisco County increased 46 percent after the city’s plastic ban went into effect. Apparently, San Franciscans didn’t realize you could toss a reusable bag into the washing machine.
At present, 20 percent of Californians enjoy life without plastic bags, and soon Ventura County, Ventura, Oxnard and Port Hueneme will be considering prohibitions as well.
Personally, I hate the flimsy things. Unless more than one bag is employed, they support no more than a couple of cans, usually fall over and divest themselves of their contents on the ride home, and although I have a cute sock-like device to collect them, I rarely remember to return them to Ralphs — where they’re routinely discarded, anyway.
Most of us already realize how detrimental plastic bags can be. They constitute nearly 25 percent of the litter or “urban tumbleweeds” piling up beside roads and highways, floating in waterways or hanging from trees and bushes — where they can choke or poison wildlife, domestic land animals or, eventually, marine creatures.
Furthermore, plastic bags don’t break down in landfills for centuries, they add to the demand for oil (100 billion plastic bags annually equal 12 million barrels), and they’re neither easy nor convenient to recycle.
Plastic bags, in fact, are the bane of recycling plants. Many folks deposit them in “general plastic” bins. Big mistake. Plastic bags subsequently jam and break the expensive sorting machines. Your taxes are then diverted into repairing equipment, instead of, say, filling potholes.
California could have been the first state to prohibit plastic bags had not legislation failed in 2010, and then again on Thursday.
Business interests linked with the plastic bag industry provided formidable opposition in 2010, despite then-Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, the author of AB 1998, getting the California Grocers, fed up with a hodgepodge of regulations, on board.
The writing, however, was on the wall long before the 14-21 defeat. Tim Shestek of the American Chemistry Council knew exactly how to get the lawmakers’ attention.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Shestek argued, “This bill will result in increasing consumer grocery prices with the requirement to pay for paper bags. They will cost at least a nickel, and it could be higher,” he added. “We think recycling is the answer. Burdening Californians with a new tax or putting people in an unemployment line is not something the Legislature should be doing.”
Essentially the same buzzwords (“new tax,” “unemployment line,” “recycling”) led to the demise of Senate Bill 405 (authored by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles) last week. Like Brownley, Padilla had garnered support from retailers wanting to eliminate the uneven patchwork of policies across California.
It wasn’t enough. The plastic people, who had signed up two high-profile lobbying firms in Sacramento, spent nearly $300,000 to defeat the bill.
State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, who voted against SB 405, told CBS News, “If you think plastic bags are single-use, you have not met my mother” while Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, who also voted “no,” pointed out, “All you’ve got to do is go to a local park where someone’s taken their dog and you can understand how you can actually use the bag twice.”
Sounds like recycling bags works. Wait a minute, though, while California retailers distribute more than 14 billion plastic bags each year, state officials report only 5 percent are actually recycled. Sounds like recycling bags doesn’t work.
Did you know that a 2006 California law prohibits cities from requiring fees for plastic bags? That’s absolutely backward. If you want plastic bags, you pay for plastic bags.
And next time you see a gull, try to warn it about empty plastic calories.