…Beginning January 2015, plastic bags will be ghosted from major grocers throughout the state. Instead shoppers will be forced to pay a dime excise fee for papers bags or purchase reusable-but-not-recyclable totes.
Make no mistake: This measure wasn’t about preserving our environment—the alternatives to plastic bags have heavier environmental footprints than the now-illegal variety deemed outmoded—or protecting cute marine life. This was an exercise in punishing an industry, and the thousands of hard-working Californians it employs, that Big Green finds politically distasteful.
In both environmental and fiscal measures, bag bans are unqualified failures. This ban will engender no positive outcomes for our environment and in turn only toughen the job climate. And yet it gets even worse when one examines the process through which this particular deal was brokered.
Here, greedy special interests and desperate legislators struck an agreement to allow grocers to retain all the paper bag fees in return for their support of the legislation. Projected to earn as much as $1 billion in new revenue, the grocers gladly obliged. With the help of the grocers’ lobbyists, legislators in Sacramento had the necessary air cover to ignore the environmental science and potential for dramatic job loss. So do what they refused and consult the data.
Life Cycle Comparisons: Plastic, Paper and Reusable
According to a lifecycle analysis by the United Kingdom’s environmental authority, shoppers would need to reuse their reusable totes 131 times before it became more environmentally advantageous than a plastic bag that was used just once. The Brits determined that it would take 7.5 years, assuming one trip to the market a week, for a reusable bag to have a lesser carbon footprint than a plastic bag used only three times.
But the problems with reusable bags aren’t simply limited to its gross environmental failings. They also pose a growing public health risk, as demonstrated by a particularly disturbing vignette from Oregon, where a girls soccer team was stricken by the Norovirus traced to a reusable tote.
In the seven years since San Francisco became the first American municipality to ban plastic bags in 2007, researchers have tracked a 5-percent increase in death from food-borne illness. That increase isn’t simply coincidental, but causal: According to a 2011 white paper by the International Association for Food Protection, a majority of reusable bags contain coliform bacteria.
These are genuine facts that California’s lawmakers and governor willfully ignored. But they won’t be ignored by voters—either their pockets will be hurting from a new regressive tax or their bellies from the forced transition to bacteria-riddled totes—when considering a referendum in 2016.
Legislated Out of a Job
Their livelihoods in jeopardy, the thousands of workers employed in the manufacturing and recycling of plastic bags in California have resolved to collect the necessary signatures—more than 504,000—to put Gov. Brown’s bag ban directly to voters in the 2016 general election.
If not reversed, this law will have a devastating impact on the state’s economy. Jobs will be lost and food-insecure families will be forced to appropriate precious money for bags. No protein for you tonight, Jimmy, because mommy had to pay for bags.
These are the real world consequences that well-heeled lawmakers and environmental lobbyists weren’t concerned with. It wasn’t their jobs on the line but, it should be—instead of the thousands of Californians whose jobs were legislated out of existence.
Put Sacramento on notice by supporting the plastic bag ban referendum.