Big Lies from Big Plastic in California’s Prop 65/Prop 67 Plastic Bag Ban Debate

6546dvbpby Steven Maviglio

Last week in his Red Bluff Daily News column titled “Trying to Put a Bag Over Our Heads,” Joe Harrop became the latest California journalist to uncover the deceptive tactics of the plastic bag industry that has put two measures on the ballot designed to defeat the state’s landmark plastic bag law.

“In my research I discovered an organization called the American Progressive Bag Alliance,” he wrote. “I was not sure what a ‘progressive bags or why it needed an alliance. It is clear the name is meant to be misleading…The committee was formed by the American Progressive Bag Alliance, ‘which seeks to promote and advocate for public policy initiatives that serve as the frontline defense against plastic bag bans and taxes nationwide.’” In other words, it is not for progress.”

Harrop went on to skewer the out-of-state plastic bag industry for what the San Jose Mercury News called “one of the most disingenuous ballot measures in state history — and that’s saying something.”

But that hasn’t stopped the plastic industry from their campaign of deception on the airwaves. Two of their spokespeople — Beltway PR flack John Berrier along with Phil Rosenski of Novolex (the firm that’s primarily bankrolling the campaign) appeared on the air last week to deceptively make the plastic industry’s case.

In the spirit of all the political fact checking that’s occurring in this year’s campaigns, it’s time to keep the plastic bag profiteers honest.

Fact-Checking John Berrier on KQED’s Forum:

Berrier: “The idea that by banning this product, you’re going to meaningfully reduce litter or waste … is just false.  It’s a fine talking point…but there is no demonstrated significant positive environmental impact.”

The Facts:

  • More than 150 California cities and counties have already implemented bag bans, and every city that has reported has found the policy has resulted in a reduction in litter and waste.
  • Local bans have directly eliminated over 5 billion plastic shopping bags per year and all the resulting litter and waste—66 million lbs. of plastic.
  • Local policies have reduced paper bag consumption by nearly 400 million bags annually. In total, Local bag policies have already resulted in the reduction of approximately 185,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year.
  • San Jose found that after just one year plastic bag litter was reduced by 76% in creeks and rivers, 59% in parks and roadsides, and 69% in storm drains.
  • Santa Cruz and Monterey report that after local bans were passed plastic bags collected at beach clean-up events was reduced by better than 85%.
  • Cities with bag bans have one-third as many plastic bags/pieces in their storm water runoff.

Berrier: “The alternatives to plastic retail bags, the thicker versions under SB270 and paper are not better for the environment.”

The Facts:

  • Every Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to date has demonstrated that replacing the 10 billion single-use plastic bags with reusable bags will result in a substantially reduced environmental footprint. While many consumers will continue to use a favorite reusable bag for years, LCA’s indicate that reusable bags, including those made from thick recycled plastic as authorized by SB270, can have a reduced environmental impact after a relatively small number of ‘reuses’.
  • In total, local bag policies have already resulted in the reduction of approximately 185,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year.
  • Ecobilan’s LCA found reusable bags—including the recycled plastic reusable bags authorized by SB 270, were superior to the other bag types in every environmental indicator, after at least four uses.
  • A LCA prepared by Chico State found that Reusable Bags made in California from recycled plastic had a reduced environmental footprint after as few as eight reuses.
  • And of course recycled paper bags do not pose the same deadly threat to marine wildlife as flimsy plastic shopping bags.

Berrier: “They (Grocers) wanted to get the momentum at the state level to pass the state law which will make them 300 plus million dollars annually.”

  • The $300 million figure from the plastics industry is complete fabrication. It is not supported by any analysis anywhere.
  • The State Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that the total potential cost authorized recycled bags if Prop 67 passes might be ‘several tens of millions of dollars annually’ (about one-tenth of the industry fabrication).

Berrier: “This bill has everything to do with typical politics in Sacramento where special interests came together because they saw dollar signs and they passed a bill under the guise of environmentalism that ultimately is just going to enrich corporations, members of the California Grocers Association.”

The Facts:

Grocers and retailers backed SB 270 because as bans started popping up around the state, they wanted to see a uniform policy in their stores versus a variety of policies which makes business difficult for them.

Fact Checking Phil Rosenski, Senior Director of Sustainability at Novolex on KPBS, “The Plastic Bag Ban at Grocery Stores, Props 65 & 67, Sept. 9, 2016.

Rosenski: “These local ordinances never started passing for the environmental benefit, they started passing because the revenue was generating for the grocers.”(The grocers) potentially could make between $300 to $500 million per year additional profit off this law. There was an independent assessment done by a group called Blue Sky Consulting, and they were saying its most likely going to be about $300 million additional profit, but it could go as high as $500 million.”

The Facts:

  • The $300 million figure from the plastics industry is complete fabrication. It is not supported by any analysis anywhere. The Blue Sky Report was paid for by the industry.
  • The State Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that the total potential cost of authorized recycled bags if Prop 67 passes might be ‘several tens of millions of dollars annually’ (about one-tenth of the industry fabrication).

Rosenski: “California is increasing its consumption of plastic by 30% under these laws. While people are using less bags, what we are seeing in the existing markets, even though you’re using less, simply because they are 5 times thicker…we’re adding more plastic with this.”

The Facts:

  • Every Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) to date has demonstrated that replacing the 10 billion single-use plastic bags with reusable bags will result in a substantially reduced environmental footprint.
  • While many consumers will continue to use a favorite reusable bag for years, LCA’s indicate that reusable bags, including those made from thick recycled plastic as authorized by SB270, can have a reduced environmental impact after a relatively small number of ‘reuses’.
  • In Alameda County, the bag ordinance reduced bag purchases by 85% in less than two years. Stores bought 50-90% bags for distribution, and more than double the amount of customers brought in their own bags or didn’t use a bag at all.
  • In San Mateo County, 162% more people brought their own bags, while 130% more carried out their purchases without a bag.
  • In Mountain View, from July 2009 to July 2015, it was observed that shoppers using single-use plastic bags decreased from 66% to 11%, while shoppers that used reusable bags or no bags increased from 34% to 89%.
  • In the City of Santa Barbara, two years of ban implementation resulted in eliminating almost 45 million single-use plastic shopping bags from covered stores—an estimated 95% of all plastic bags generated in the city.

Rosenski: “Meanwhile, increasing paper bag usage 4 to 5 fold.”

The Facts:

  • Local policies have reduced paper bag consumption by nearly 400 million bags annually.
  • Alameda County reports a 36% decrease in paper bag use following implementation their ‘Countywide’ ordinance, to about 43.5 bags per capita.
  • Los Angeles County reports a 25% decrease in paper bag usage following implementation of their ordinance in the ‘Unincorporated’ areas of the County, which they report equates to less than 40 bags per resident.
  • City of San Jose ‘observation survey’ found a 55% reduction in the average number of paper bags distributed per customer, from 0.61 in 2009 (pre-implementation) to 0.27 through 2014 (post-implementation).
  • City of Mountain View reports an average decrease of 9 percent in paper bags provided to shoppers during the first year of the ordinance with some stores experiencing as much as a 17 percent to 21 percent decrease in paper bag purchases.) Post implementation grocery store reports found 3,071,220 bags distributed in 2014, equal to 40.8 bags per capita.
  • City of Santa Barbara reports that post-implementation of their ordinance, paper bag generation was found to equal just 29.4 bags per capita. Based on their EIR estimates that equates to a 42% reduction in paper bag use.

Steven Maviglio is the spokesperson for the Yes on 67, Protect California’s Plastic Bag Ban campaign.