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Steve Lopez: It took an army of lobbyists to kill California's ban on plastic bags

TalkBackLopez_187x105I'd been in contact with Heal the Bay's Mark Gold before, during and after the vote on the proposed plastic-bag ban, which on Tuesday night sank to the bottom of the swamp in Sacramento.

So what now?

I'll get to that in a minute. Gold, after months of lobbying, was devastated by the 21-14 defeat in the California Senate. The statewide ban at supermarkets and convenience stores would have been the first in the nation and was supported by the governor and key legislators as well as grocers and environmentalists.

It would have made neighborhoods cleaner and waterways safer for wildlife, but Sacramento is often where good ideas go to die. "The failure reflects more on the competency of the Legislature than it does on the policy itself," Gold said in an e-mail the morning after.

The American Chemistry Council spent millions opposing the bill, which the bag-making industry called a job killer and a hardship for shoppers, who would have had to bring their own totes or pay for recyclable bags.

Critics also said the bill would cost $4 million to implement, while environmentalists argued the state spent far, far more disposing of millions of discarded bags.

Gold was particularly ticked off by one of the hired guns who helped kill the bill -- former Assembly Speaker Fabián Núñez, who passed himself off as an environmentalist while in office, is now a lobbyist for the Chemistry Council.

"Because he is no friend of urban rivers or marine life, can he return all of the environmental awards he received for that effort?" Gold asked on his blog, Spouting Off.

So what's the next step for Heal the Bay, now that a state with an international reputation for environmental leadership has rejected a simple, straighforward effort to clean California? Keep fighting, said Gold, whose blog was titled "We Will Win the War." "

"Already, L.A. County, Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach are planning to move forward with bans," he said, and Heal the Bay will back those efforts.

Would you support bans in those cities and others? Let us know.

-- Steve Lopez

What do you think? Share your thoughts below.

Comments () | Archives (96)

If grocers were in support of the ban, why don't they just stop providing plastic bags in their stores? We don't need a bill in order for them to show their support.

No question, the American Chemistry Council was terribly concerned about the hardship that shoppers would face without cheap plastic bags they could throw away after one use. Terribly concerned.

There are several companies making nylon bags that tuck into their own little carrying case. Chico Bags is one of these. The bags come in a variety of sizes and colors, and can be tucked into a pocket or purse when going shopping. If everyone began to use alternatives to plastic bags we could begin to reduce the amount that end up being mistaken as jelly-fish and eaten by marine animals (escaped balloons too), or end up blowing around our environment.

Shame on you, Speaker Fabián Núñez. I hope the voters remember this come next election.

Yes, I would support the ban. The lobbyists’ argument against the ban is equivalent to advocating oil spills so the toxic cleanup industry is not adversely affected.

Fabian Nunez and The American Chemistry Council are lame, really really lame. So to are the Senators who voted against the ban, undoubtedly Republicans. How much dinero did you get for that shill bro?

Thank goodness better heads on the Westside and in LA will prevail.

I would support a ban on plastic bag in almost every case. My family has been using reusable grocery bags for about 3 years now, and the designs just keep getting better. The bags come in handy for other things, too (beach totes, for example) Our planet is finite, and we'd better start acting like it. This is another example of special interest lobbyists working against the greater good.

Yes, I would support a plastic bag ban. I already take my own bags when I go shopping, for groceries or anything else. It took me a while to get in the habit, but simple steps like keeping reusable bags by the door to remind me when I go out, and keeping spare bags in the truck of my car, helped me form a good habit.

Enough already with these ghastly plastic bags!!! That's all I see lining the street as I run my daily 6 mile loop through my neighborhood. Let's publicize a list of the politicians who are bagmen for the plastic bag industry!

Why is CA broke?

Because politicians waste their time on stupid stuff like this and don’t focus on what really matters.

Biodegradable plastic bag do the trick and allow those who want to use them to use them. Umm, paper bags knock down trees....are we going to ban paper bags to save the trees...Fools.

Time to leave CA.

Few grocers will attempt to go this alone, fearing that customers will switch stores over the issue. Grocery stores are not hugely profitable, and losing a group of customers is a real worry. By legislating it, stores don't need to worry about that problem as every store will be in the same boat.

That said, I don't agree that the stores *would* lose as many customers as they fear. Costco doesn't seem to be hurting by encouraging customers to use leftover boxes and I see more and more customers providing their own bags anyway. I'm sure that varies a lot by region, however.

I would rather that there be a charge for purchasing the plastic bags, as is done in many European countries. Right now in my suburb of San Diego several of the stores give me a 5 cent credit for each bag of my own which I bring in.

I've noticed that many of the replacement bags used by folks are themselves made of some form of plastic (just heavier duty), so how is using these plastic replacement bags reducing the use of plastic? If single use plastic bags are to be banned, then it seems that there should be some standard in place for whatever their replacements will be.

We try to use our own bags as much as possible, but there are times when we've just forgotten them or we're out of town. We should have an option to cover those situations.

I liked the idea of the ban until I read that the law would require the grocers to tax bags made from recycled materials used by shoppers who did not bring in their own.

That would have mean a new tax on every person who shops and eats in this state. Nice try Sacramento. Change the bill to make it a ban only and you'll get my vote.

I don't understand. If you ban plastic bags, won't all stores just switch to paper bags? Is that really environmentally friendlier?

Is this something that necessarily needs to go through state legislation? I would assume that large environmental changes could be made through the persuasion of supermarkets and local businesses.

i agree. just say no to a plastic bag and stores will stop providing them. simple as that. do we really need the government to waste time and pass this law? have people's brains become so paralyzed that we need the government to hold our hands to do this? bah
also in other parts of the world they charge for a bag. now people bring their own. simple as that.

The consumer has a choice too, next time, yes say paper please! Or better, bring your own bags.

I'd support a 5 year ban on ANYONE, elected or appointed to public office, from taking a job as a lobbyist.

That would be a referendum I could get behind.

Yes, I'd support the ban. I've been using my own bags for several years now. I keep them in my car so that I don't forget to bring them into stores. Consumers can support the ban on their own, by buying their own bags at stores or websites. The reusable bags are pretty cheap now - $0.99 per bag is not a lot.

I bought my bags from www.reusablebags.com, and I always get compliments from the baggers and asked where I got them. Considering that most stores give you credit for using your own bags, and that mine have lasted me for about 5 years now, I've probably made money by using them.

We need to get rid of this idea that everything's disposable.

Before plastic bags, the markets had bins of small, medium and large paper
bags. We recycled them either for children's lunch bags or other uses, or
put them at the curb for pick-up with our newspapers and other paper goods.
It worked well and didn't muck-up the ocean or anything else, I as recall.

Why do the grocers need a ban? Just stop offering the plastic bags and we will have to use the reusable bags instead. I'd rather use the reusable bags, but I'm never going to remember to bring them with me to the grocery store so long as there are plastic bags available.

Yes, I'd support a ban. For the sake of the environmental health and beauty of our state, we ALL should!

ban those plastic bags! I haven't used any for a while. I bring my own bags most of the time. 5-1 dollar bags lasts for a whole year and then counting. Some of the bristol farms and whole food even give credit back if we bring our own bags.

For America that is supposed to be environmentally friend, we are behind China that has already banned the use of plastic bags.

Or maybe we should invent something that can turn the plastic bags back to oil, oh wait some Japanese already did that....

I use the bags that I get from the grocery store as my trash bags in my bathroom as well as my trash bags in the kitchen. The grocery bags fit great in the tall kitchen container if you stretch it on 3 corners. If I didn't have them I would have to then buy trash bags.

We should be pushing for having trash incinerators like they have in Sweden instead of pushing to have Big Brother tell me what I can and can't use. Isn't this the land of Freedom? I guess that doesn't really mean much to people here now that "1984" has come and gone.

I reuse these bags everyday. Anyone who has cats understands. This is a silly distraction from difficult environmental issues no one wants to face.

Hooray for the defeat of the plastic bag ban!When i heard that this bill didn't get enough votes i shouted YES! Thank god this lame-ass hindrance on our convenience was killed. These "urban tumble weeds" are being recycled at an unprecedented rate, and there is just no need to outlaw them. The city of Manhattan Beach tried to do this couple of years ago and fortunately has not been enacted. Supporters of the ban claimed that these bags were always seen blowing around the beach, washing up on the shore- yeah right. Look around, where are all these bags ? Just another lie by the eco-terrorists trying to pass bills like this in the middle of the night. Today we can celebrate a small victory!

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