California lawmakers tried to pass a statewide measure banning plastic bags but failed.
Now environmental activists are pushing for the ban in cities and counties, succeeding already in San Francisco and now focusing on Los Angeles. The battle pits environmental concerns against consumer choice, jobs and a surprising new concern – public health.
But the campaign also is getting attention because of the dollars involved.
There have been many arguments from environmental pressure groups about the limited biodegradability of plastic and the trash in landfills. A Los Angeles councilman raised another concern at a recent council meeting, arguing that plastic bags wreak havoc in his community, because they are blown around and get "caught in power lines and in bird nests."
But Austin James, a Los Angeles data analyst, argues that a new proposal that would ban plastic and levy a 10-cent usage fee on all paper bags will cost consumers more and benefit only large corporations.
"Under current form, none of the proposed tax will actually go to the local government(s) affected by the new law. Instead, according to the bill, 'All monies collected by a store … will be retained by the store.' So, in reality, this legislation will … actually do more damage than good for the local environment," he said.
James mentions the estimated loss of 1,000 or more jobs in the city of Los Angeles alone. He also cites studies saying:
- "Plastic bag production uses less water and produces less carbon than paper bags.
- Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable and actually generate half the greenhouse gas emissions of composted paper bags, resulting in 80 percent less waste.
- For every seven trucks needed to deliver paper bags, only one truck is needed for the same number of plastic bags.
James says the bag ban will take from unwilling taxpayers and "line the pockets of the biggest corporations, actually causing more damage than good to the environment."
According to industry groups, the ubiquitous plastic bag is big business, and eliminating them will kill jobs and also limit choice. The plastic bags became popular when they emerged in the 1980s because of their strength relative to their weight. While the paper bag was typically one bag per arm, the number of plastic bags one can carry largely is limited by the strength of the shopper.
"I have not used paper bags in maybe 20 years, unless maybe I needed to line a bird cage," a shopper told WND. "Who do the politicians think they are telling me I have to buy reusable bags?"
Other consumers raise questions about the impact on the poor and the notion that what happens in California often spreads to the rest of the country.
"The bag ban is being pushed by rich, white liberals, with no kids, who live on the coast … and pick up their chardonnay and smoked Brie at Trader Joe's in their Prius," said Dennis Hollingsworth, who is from California himself and has worked in California politics. "They have no concept nor do they care about the devastating impact it will have on the lower class folks who have to … feed and clothe their children, and clean their own homes."
The loss of jobs and money may not be the biggest problem.
In a 2011 study, four researchers examined reusable bags in California and Arizona and found that 51 percent of them contained E. coli form bacteria. When bags were stored in hot car trunks for two hours, the bacteria grew 10-fold.
The problem stems from the habits of the bag's users. Seventy-five percent said they keep meat and vegetables in the same bag; and even though washing the bags eliminated 99.9 percent of the bacteria, 97 percent of people reported that they never wash their bags.
According to a more recent study on the public-health impact of plastic-bag bans, the San Francisco ban was followed by a 46 percent increase in deaths from food-borne illnesses, or 5.5 more of them each year. They find that emergency-room admissions related to E. coli infections increased in San Francisco after the ban, while neighboring counties with bag choice did not show the increase. This effect showed up as soon as the ban was implemented. The San Francisco ban was also associated with increases in salmonella poisoning and other bacterial infections.
Experts recommend either washing the reusable bags or throwing them away, which defeats the purpose of a reusable bag.
"Once again, it's another solution to a made-up problem invented by dumb liberals in California. The only real purpose is to annoy shoppers and steal an extra 10 cents," said Ryan Cooper, who works in grocery stores across the Southwest region.
"Attacking plastic bags does make people feel good, but doesn't actually accomplish anything," said David Spady of Americans for Prosperity. He cited the health risks of the reusable bags, as well, but he also addressed other common misperceptions about the bags.
"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is talking about a Canadian study from the 1990s [that] was actually talking about plastic fishing nets and never even mentions plastic bags."
He calls the ban "hypocritical" and adds "plastic bags only account for one-half of one percent landfill solid waste."
When asked about the bag ban spreading across California, one state native said, "All I can say is follow the money trail, that will be your answer."
"It's a fraud like global warming," said Jodi Free. "Corrupt politicians, lawyers … the ruling class all doing what they do best … power and control over the rest of us."