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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)

Be nice if we knew which politicians voted against this. And, their email address so we may contact them and voice our anger.

And, a comment on here said "undoubtedly Republicans" voted against it. Really? What if the people employed by the bag makers were union jobs?? Nunez was a Democrat, right? TIRED of this rhetoric, I really am...

Paper bags are actually worse for the environment, since the cost in resources in producing them is far worse than the effect of plastic bags. At a time when our state unemployment rate is so staggeringly high, passing laws that eliminate jobs in California is counterproductive. I re-use my plastic bags for a variety of purposes, and until our unemployed get jobs and are able to work again, the legislators on the national, state, and local levels would do well to consider what types of laws they attempt to pass.


In Toronto, where I'm from, plastic bags by law cost 5 cents. When the law took effect last year, behavior changed immediately. Suddenly it became a hassle (even if just by perception) to get plastic bags, so more and more people started carrying reusable bags.

I just moved out of California. Mostly because the State is an economic disaster, but also because people spend time and effort on idiotic policies such as this. Plastic bags, paper bags, who cares? The entire eco debate is a fraud. Hope ya'll have a good time paying your out of control state & city taxes.

I think that most people are willing to reconsider their behavior - and the behavior of their state - if it will improve the environment. Most people, however, do not like to be strongly coerced and do not like measures that threaten the legality of products that they have grown accustomed to using. For whatever reason, hard-core environmentalists do not seem to understand this natural impulse against government coercion. The measure should be rewritten and reformulated in a manner that is far more politically agreeable and that provides incentives instead of laws. For example, if grocers were given a tax break for policies that encouraged shoppers to forgo plastic bags, we would immediately see a reduction in the number of plastic bags used by shoppers. Other alternatives include encouraging the use of non-plastic bags, such as laquer-based bags, that break down when exposed to the natural elements. Regardless of global warming or other end-of-the-world predictions, the environmental lobby still has to learn to be political.

"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.".....America home of the free and brave ignorant, lazy and amoral.

I keep about 5 strong cloth bags in my trunk and use them to shop for groceries or at other stores. It is very easy and convenient. They only cost about a $1 or you can sometimes find them for free. Every week I use my bags at the grocery store. I have never seen anyone else use them.
It bothers me when I see the bag boy use two plastic bags for one 2 liter botle or places only a few items in each bag. I sometimes see that they almost use one bag per item.

Thanks to organizations like Heal the bay for fighting the good fight. Don't give up.

I don't know, Steve... I live in Santa Barbara and I don't see plastic bags floating around the streets or at the beach.

We use paper and plastic bags from the stores as liners for our home trash cans. If we don't use those bags, I suppose we will have to buy trash can liners. What do people who want to get rid of these pages use for home trash can liners? Nothing? Then, I suppose those trash cans have to be cleaned a lot with water, which is in short supply. I just don't get it.

I will support the ban on plastic bags!

Ever since I travelled in Southeast Asia and India and saw the devastation there cause by these "disposable" but long lasting environmental hazards, I ve opened my eyes at home.

The attitude here by some is dismal, as I often state "I dont need a plastic bag, less trash" at certain stores and they look at me weird as opt not to double bag something I could simply carry on its own.

Wake up world or a grim future awaits!

The government subsidizes the petroleum industry. This translates into the sucess of plastic bags in the marketplace.

There is an emergency in our ocean -- a plastic emergency that starts in our city, and finds its way into the sea after it rains. A ban on plastic bags is a good start.

When I found out I was giddy! Their effect on wildlife is small compared to all of the other waste found in the ocean and landfills, and lets face it, a lot of environmentalists pushing this don't even want trash in landfills! They want "zero waste" and this is the first step. Next it will be plastic bottles. People should not be forced to buy tote bags or be taxed for using plastic or paper bags...they should have free choice. I have nothing to do with the industry...I'm 25-years-old socially liberal and think the government should mind its own business. If people want to be "environmentally friendly" thats fine but they shouldn't force it on me. And don't get me started on that garbage patch, plastic bags make up only a small part of it...if people want to cut down on litter and waste, they should put more trash cans in the inner city. Drive down Broadway between the 10 and 110 freeways. Trash everywhere and no trash cans. Studies used to support plastic bag bans have been proven to be based on flawed science:

I fully support the ban on plastic bags..

So should I just start wearing cargo pants everywhere I go in case I need to make an unplanned stop at the grocery store?

Abstinence is never the answer. Why not just make bio-degradable plastic bags? Come on science - let's get our heads in the game! A lot of people re-use these plastic bags for pet waste. Cleaning up after your dog with those reusable bags they sell in the stores would get pretty expensive!

Reusable cloth bags are far superior for groceries in every way. I have more cloth bags than I can ever use and I got them all FREE in various promotions. Cloth bags are strong and most have long handles. You can carry more groceries and hang the bags over your shoulders. Plastic breaks and the handles cut into your hands. My husband and I are both over 50 and we walk to the grocery store once a week (it is a mile round trip) and are able to get a week's worth of groceries in 4-5 cloth bags. I find walking more relaxing than driving, and I don't feel guilty if I eat desert. My husband and I are both skinny by today's standards. I also have cats, but manage to dispose of their waste without plastic. I do save plastic containers clean and reuse them. Saves a lot of money!

Shame on the state of California for letting its constituents down once again. I hope the ban makes its way back to the floor. There are entire stretches of nearby ocean waters COVERED in plastic bags and the only way shoppers will stop using them is if grocers stop offering them!

The only encouraging thing about this blow to the environment is that it seems only special interest groups and the chemical industry are still pro plastic bags. Eventually the will of the people will prevail.

I don't understand why we just can't ban stores "baking in" the cost of their plastic bags into the products they sell, and instead, charging them separately as products. If people notice how much they are actually paying for those bags, they will stop buying them.

I already bring my own bags whenever I go to the market - so I am totally behind this ban.
The notion of using a plastic bag to carry ones grocery or other purchased items only to have it then mindlessly disposed of strikes me as absurd.
Where do people - and the chemical / plastic bag industries think these bags end up ?!
The short sightedness of this scenario is dated and beyond wasteful.
The solution of using a re-usable shopping bag is simple and painless and the effects will be apparent immediately.
I assumed passing this ban would be a no-brainer, but instead it was defeated via lobbyists and politicians w/ no brains.

I wouldn't miss them at all. I'm using reusable bags already. Paper seems a better choice then plastic at any rate.

Absolutely. I wish our legislators had guts. I also wish stores would do the right thing on their own. In other countries, customers are charged per the number of bags they use. Those that don't want to pay bring their own. Something like this could move forward regardless of the spinelessness of Sacramento. It's not a solution, but a step in the right direction. In the end, however, their ought to be a ban on something that is so clearly an affront to our environment.

I admit it: I'm a convenience addict. And I need some help breaking my addiction.

Whenever I buy less than four items, I will usually refuse a bag outright, but otherwise, it's plastic. I know I should be using a reusable tote, but honestly, I never remember to think about it until I'm standing in the checkout line, and I forget soon thereafter. The reason? I don't have to remember to bring a tote when I head out to the store, because there is always a plastic bag available. If I got to the end of that checkout line, and had to pay 5¢ for a paper bag because I forgot my reusable tote and there were no plastic bags waiting for me, I guarantee you I would have that tote with me the next time.

A voluntary ban will never take off in the free market because those who choose to not care about the environment will have an unfair market advantage over those who want to do the right thing. We need the government to universally ban these bags from California in order to keep the playing field fair for those companies who care about the future of our society, and ensure compliance by those who don't.

It's another sad day for California. I hope those lobbyists get tangled in plastic trash when they swim near their beach front homes.... Seriously considering moving out of CA.

Yes, I would definitely support the ban.

I absolutely support the ban and I also believe nunez should return his awards for his enviromental "posturing" of the past. It's this type of me first ideas that are going to be the ruin of our state and country... Politicians do NOT care if the damage they do to each other hurts the state or the country... they only care about votes and campaign funds... it's bad and getting worse...
jaime gomez

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