SB 270 Wrong Answer For Cali Plastic Bag Bans

SB 270 Wrong Answer For Cali Plastic Bag Bans

Compromise Plastic Bag Bill

Sacramento, California, March 6, 2014 (PBBR) - Six weeks ago, on January 24th, three California Senators and the CEO of a plastic bag manufacturer hastily threw together a press conference for a big announcement. Just a few months earlier, two of the Senators were at odds with the third Senator and the CEO of the plastic bag maker opposed all three.

Ah. . . the saying, "politics makes strange bedfellows" lives again.

The four figures announced SB 270, a bill introduced into the California Legislature which the four labelled as a "compromise bill". Immediately, when I heard the word "compromise" I soured. When the word "compromise" is uttered by a politician, be wary.

Sen. Alex Padilla had authored a bill last year that would have banned single-use plastic bags statewide. His bill, SB 405, narrowly missed passage - by three votes.

How hasty was the creation of SB 270? Well, first of all, the bill was hijacked. SB 270 was originally introduced last year, February 14, 2013, by Sen. Padilla as: Underground economy: Enforcement actions. The bill would have added Section 106.5 to the Labor Code of the State of California to combat tax violations and cash-pay employment.

On February 6, 2014, SB 270 was red-lined and amended as: Solid waste: single-use carryout bags. This was two weeks after the press conference; which means the bill had not even been introduced into the legislature when the four held the press conference.

Replacing Thin With Thick

SB 270 does ban the use of single-use carryout bags of any type at certain retailers. Most plastic shopping bags currently in use are less than 2.25 mils thick - thus the term "thin film" plastic bags. If the bill becomes law, these types of plastic bags would be banned. Merchants however would be allowed to use plastic bags thicker than 2.25 mils thick; thus, simply replacing thin plastic with thick plastic.

Considering the fact that plastic in a pelagic environment doesn't degrade but simply breaks down into smaller pieces, the last thing we need is more or thicker plastic in the ocean. It's as if the authors of this bill looked at all the 100 or so plastic bag bans in California and saw that all of them banned plastic bags less than 2.25 mil thick and decided, "We can fix this, we will just create a thicker bag over 2.25 mils thick, and charge ten cents for it rather than giving it away". Replacing thin with thick is not the answer for our oceans.

Not For Environment

Nowhere in the text of the bill is any mention as to why the bill should become law. The bill doesn't justify its existence by reference to the environment, litter, solid waste, marine life or even the word pollution.

In the four years that I have been covering plastic bag bans, I've never seen a proposed ordinance or bill that didn't start by telling the purpose for the legislation to be enacted.

Although the bill will ban thin plastic bags, in essence, SB 270 is simply Reusable Bag Regulations.

Bans Future Plastic Bag Bans

Another feature of the bill is one that I feel is totally unacceptable. It will guarantee that the State of California never gets rid of plastic shopping bags. The bill states,

42287. (a) Except as provided in subdivision (c), this chapter is a matter of statewide interest and concern and is applicable uniformly throughout the state. Accordingly, this chapter occupies the whole field of regulation of reusable grocery bags, single-use carryout bags, and recycled paper bags, as defined in this chapter.

(b) On and after January 1, 2015, a city, county, or other local public agency shall not enforce, or otherwise implement, an ordinance, resolution, regulation, or rule adopted on or after September 1, 2014, relating to reusable grocery bags, single-use carryout bags, or recycled paper bags, against a store, as defined in this chapter, unless expressly authorized by this chapter.
No other jurisdiction will be allowed to adopt an ordinance banning plastic bags. Single-use bag regulations that are in force before September 1st will be allowed to stay in place. However, no new bans can be passed and no revisions to current laws can be implemented. The only area that jurisdictions, with current ordinances in place, will be allowed to adjust will be the charge for recyclable bags.
Many of the plastic bag bans that have been passed over the last four or five years only affect food stores. In fact, SB 270 only affects supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores. Many other retailers, like home improvement stores, electronics stores and clothing stores, provide thousands of plastic shopping bags to customers each year. If a municipality or county government wanted to further ban plastic bags at other retailers, under SB 270 this would not be possible.
Funds Machinery and Jobs
Did the plastics industry write this bill? A provision of the bill appropriates $2 million and mandates that the funds be expended for:
(1) Development and conversion of machinery and facilities for the manufacture of single-use plastic bags into machinery and facilities for the manufacturer of durable reusable grocery bags that, at a minimum, meet the requirements of Section 42281.
(2) Development of equipment for the manufacture of reusable grocery bags, that, at a minimum, meet the requirements of Section 42281.
(c)  A recipient of a grant authorized by this section shall agree, as a condition of receiving a grant, to retain and retrain existing employees for the manufacturing of reusable grocery bags that, at a minimum, meet the requirements of Section 42281.
No one is against job creation. However, Paul Koretz, the Los Angeles City Councilman who introduced L.A.'s plastic bag ban proposal, had this to say about job losses if L.A. passed a plastic bag ban, "If a job doesn't make sense, we shouldn't keep that job. Laying people off when you have a service that's needed is one thing. Keeping a position that really doesn't function anymore is something else." Read the full story.
Retooling a plastic bag factory to keep employees will be a great thing. However, why would money not be appropriated also to current reusable bag manufacturers in California that uses fabric, cloth or canvas? I'm sure they need new machinery and more employees.
There has been a lot hype in the media, and even by some environmental advocacy groups, that SB 270 is a plastic bag ban that has the best possibility to pass and become a statewide plastic bag ban. Currently, there is no statewide plastic bag ban passed by a state legislature.
To recap, here is a summary of what SB 270 will do for California:
  • Garner recognition for California as the first state to pass a statewide plastic bag ban
  • Garner recognition as a state that bans plastic bags but appropriates funds to plastic bag makers
  • Bans only thin-film plastic bags - not all plastic bags
  • Mandates a ten cent charge for all reusable bags including plastic reusable bags
  • Bans future plastic bag bans and reusable bag ordinances
  • Requires all reusable bags to meet specific standards
  • Allows plastic bags over 2.25 mils thick if they have handles
  • Bans single-use carryout bags only in grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores. No other retailer will ever be affected. Why would the state single out specific businesses? Definitely not an incentive for these type firms to locate in California and create new jobs.
  • Requires all reusable plastic bag manufacturers to register with the state, be certified by the state, pay a fee to the state. Is this an incentive to attract new manufacturers to the state?
  • Provides $2 million to plastic bag factories to make reusable plastic bags

SB 270 is definitely the wrong answer for California, our oceans and marine life.  Sounds like the right answer for the plastic industry.