California plastic bag ban defeated by plastic industry lobbyists

A California plastic bag ban sought to eliminate scenes such as this

The defeat of a California plastic bag ban in the state legislature was credited to heavy spending by plastic industry lobbying organizations. Zainub/Flickr photo.

A California plastic bag ban was rejected by the state senate on Wednesday. The ban, in a state that is known for setting national trends, was supported by grocers, retailers and Republican governor Arnold Schwartzenegger. But plastic industry lobbyists went all out to defeat the measure. Use of plastic grocery bags has rapidly increased worldwide. Billions of plastic bags, unable to naturally degrade, kill millions of birds and marine animals and have been identified as a human health hazard. Republicans and some Democrats opposed to the California plastic bag ban said it created an undue burden on consumers.

The California plastic bag issue

The bill would have made California the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags at grocery, drug and some convenience stores. The Silicon Valley Mercury News reports that the bill was inspired by growing public awareness of plastic garbage hazards. According to the environmental group Save the Bay, 1 million plastic bags pollute San Francisco Bay each year. State officials said that Californians use 19 billion plastic bags a year. It costs the state $25 million to collect errant plastic bags and haul them to landfills. Yet the lobbying group American Chemistry Council, a coalition of  corporations including Chevron, Dow and ExxonMobil, said the plastic bag ban didn’t make sense because it would cost $1.7 million to implement in a state with a $18 billion budget deficit.

Plastic industry buys state politicians

The American Chemistry Council led the opposition to the California plastic bag ban. The Miami Herald reports that the group, based in Virginia, has become a fixture in California where it funds opposition to environmental bills and anti-plastic city ordinances. The council produced a costly TV and radio ad campaign against the plastic bag bill and wrote a bundle of checks to politicians. In August at least seven state senators collected campaign donations directly from the council or its affiliates Exxon and Hilex Poly Co., a South Carolina plastic bag manufacturer.

Plastic bag ban pros and cons

The California plastic bag ban was created to encourage shoppers to use reusable totes. Some California cities, including San Francisco, already have such plastic bag laws in place. Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, who authored the bill, told ABC News that it would be easier to change consumer habits than try to clean up the mess. Republican senator Mimi Walters told ABC News that “If we pass this piece of legislation, we will be sending a message to the people of California that we care more about banning plastic bags than helping them put food on their table.”

The GreatPacific Garbage Patch

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated 3.96 million tons of plastic bags were produced in 2008. Of those, 9o percent were discarded. According to the Wall Street Journal, the U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually at an estimated cost to retailers of $4 billion. A U.N. study from 2006 stated that 10 percent of the world’s plastic accumulates in the ocean. The largest concentration is called the  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s the size of Texas and contains about 3.5 million tons of trash.

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