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Letter to the Editor: Statewide Plastic Bag Ban Legislation

Press Telegram – May 26th Submittal

Statewide Plastic Bag Ban Proposal

A recent editorial by State Senator Ricardo Lara titled “Plastic-bag ban would hurt California workers” continues to perpetuate the idea that Californians must choose between bolstering the economy and promoting environmental progress. In his editorial, Senator Lara states that “We all care about the environment and want to reduce litter, but at a time when California is still recovering from a recession, we need to pursue policies that protect the environment and jobs.” As a member of the Long Beach City Council, I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the choice that Senator Lara is offering us does not protect the environment, nor does it account for the full economic picture of phasing out plastic bags.

Passing a statewide plastic bag ban like Senate Bill 405 (Padilla) is not a war on plastic or the people whose livelihood depend on it. First, plastic bag manufacturers in California have a diverse product line that includes other plastic bags not covered by SB 405. For example, Crown Poly makes a number of different plastic bags that will not be banned under this bill. Moreover, Crown Poly also makes a reusable Hippo Sack that is on San Francisco’s list of acceptable reusable bags under its ordinance and would likely qualify here in Long Beach. Thus, while I am thankful that Crown Poly and other plastic manufacturers provide good-paying jobs with benefits for Californians, the evidence does not support the idea that SB 405 would eliminate an entire industry.

Further, Senator Lara’s editorial makes no mention of another important sector of the California’s economy: reusable bag companies. California is home to over 30 reusable bag companies, one of the highest numbers in the nation, including Green Vets LA, Earthwise and Chico Bags. Passage of a statewide bag ban will drive demand for reusable bags from these companies, in turn potentially creating new jobs and increasing revenue for local and state tax coffers. And these are “green” jobs, producing a product that - on a per use basis - has fewer environmental impacts than a plastic bag.

Finally, let us consider what benefits we would forgo if a statewide ban does not pass. California taxpayers will continue to shell out millions in cleanup costs. A 2012 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found California’s coastal cities and counties spend about $420 million each year to combat litter and curtail marine debris. Plastic bags are a large contributor to marine debris on our beaches and inland creeks. For example, volunteers participating in the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup in California recovered 64,085 plastic bags during the one day event. Seventy-five jurisdictions in California – including Long Beach – recognize that taxpayer dollars can be put to better use and have banned plastic bags from certain stores. And we are seeing the benefits. For example, the City of San Jose’s 2012 litter surveys indicate that plastic bag litter has been reduced by “approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system, 60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in City streets and neighborhoods, when compared to [pre-ordinance] data.” Community groups and city staff in Long Beach also report a reduction in plastic bags during their neighborhood and beach clean ups.  I am hopeful that jurisdictions across the state will realize similar benefits if SB 405 passes.

Senator Lara said he is “committed to ensuring that our state remains a place where hard work and a dream of a better life get you somewhere.” I am committed to that vision as well. But I believe that passing a statewide bag bill will not only preserve our precious environmental resources, but promote a sustainable economic model for the twenty-first century.

Dr. Suja Lowenthal
Councilmember, 2nd District
City of Long Beach

(Councilmember Lowenthal authored the City's ban on single-use plastic bags which the Long Beach passed in 2011.)