Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

San Diegans May Soon Be Asked To BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)

October 31, 2013 1:15 p.m.


Roger Kube, Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter

Cathy Browne, General Manager, Crowne Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in Huntington Beach

Jack Macy, spokesperson, San Francisco Department of the Environment

Mark Arabo, President, Neighborhood Market Association

Related Story: San Diegans May Soon Be Asked To BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The city of San Diego is moving closer to an ordinance that will change the typical shopping experience. Early next year, the city Council will decide whether to ban single use plastic grocery bags. The new law would also require grocery stores to charge a nominal fee for paper bags. Environmentalists are big supporters of the move, but there are concerns for the bag manufacturers and some consumers. I would like to welcome Roger Kube with the San Diego Surfrider Foundation. Roger, we're wondering why is there such a big push to reduce plastic grocery bags in California? What are they doing to our environment?

ROGER KUBE: Let me state that the Surfrider foundation mission is the protection of our oceans waves and beaches. We want to reduce pollution, and reducing plastic pollution is a priority campaign for us. In 2005 we created a campaign called rise above plastic to address issues and raise awareness about the impact of plastic pollution in a marine environment. This is a global issue. Our campaign is a global campaign. We also have beach cleanup programs.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much of the beach cleanup consists of plastic bags?

ROGER KUBE: We do 48 beach cleanups in San Diego County per year. About 5000 volunteers come out to help keep our coastline clean. About 70% of the of the pollution is plastic, so we see how this is impacting our coastline ocean.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Hasn't there been any sort of response to the effort to recycle plastic grocery bags? Some people are very regular about taking their bags and recycling them.

ROGER KUBE: Unfortunately ñ although the effort is there ñ a report by the city of San Diego and the state report indicate that less than 5% of those plastic bags are recycled. There are a couple of reasons. The plastic bags tend to jam up recycling machinery. There is also not much of an aftermarket for the bags. Most of the plastic bags are not being recycled, but are actually ending up in the landfall.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So the problem is not just in the landfill. Not only do they take up space, but there's a problem with machinery?

ROGER KUBE: the city of San Diego reported last year that they spent roughly $160,000 on plastic in the landfill. The problem with plastic in general is that they do not biodegrade. They photodegrade - releasing toxins in the environment and marine life - in addition to economic cost, there is also health risks.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If this band as approved, how are people supposed to carry groceries?

ROGER KUBE: That is a great question. Grocery stores are supposed to do away with plastic bags and offer paper bags for a ten cent fee. This will encourage people to bring reusable bags.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that is to try to guide people to buy their own bags and keep using them?

ROGER KUBE: That is correct, the city of San Diego has included minimum standards on the reusable bags to make sure that they are also environmentally friendly. The idea behind the paper bag ten cent fee is also to discourage people from substituting from plastic to paper. Paper bags also have their own impact.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Roger Kube. On the line with us now is Cathy Browne with Crowne Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer in Huntington Beach. Welcome to the program.

CATHY BROWNE: Thank you, and thank you for inviting me to speak.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is your opposition to this proposed ban?

CATHY BROWNE: We're not located in Huntington Beach we're in Huntington Park, California. We are a plastic manufacturer. We represent 1800 manufacturing jobs making these products in an industry of 30,000 jobs manufacturing good US plastic products in the United States.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You must have seen this movement against disposable grocery bags. It's been growing over the years. I wonder what the conversation has been at your manufacturing among the officials who are leaders in this plastic bag industry. Is there any way to make bags more environmentally friendly?

CATHY BROWNE: Plastic bags are environmentally friendly, they use very little resources compared to their counterparts. The first point I would like to make is that it is a misnomer to call the plastic bag a meeting single use bag. They can be continuously reused. Average people - including the working poor - reuse these bags as gym bags, lunch bags, or trash bags. Plastic is used in landfills to keep sludge from leaching out of the landfill. Plastic is the perfect item to go into a landfill.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Has the industry done any polling on the popularity of plastic bag bans?

CATHY BROWNE: San Diego did a poll, and majority of San Diegans and do not support the ban, 54% oppose the ban.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, you've seen this coming, right? San Francisco and Los Angeles and now San Diego. Cities across the country are considering this. What is Plan B for you?

CATHY BROWNE: We hope that the facts will prevail rather than rhetoric and emotion. If you look at San Francisco specifically, the litter reduction of plastic bags, there's more plastic bags on the street in San Francisco after that ban than before. The litter going into waste is less than a half percent. It's unfortunate that the argument is emotional and rhetorical and a way for people to fundraise and have a cause to get money.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My last question to you, do you intend to lobby against this proposal?

CATHY BROWNE: I did attend the environmental committee hearing and it's an important cause because there are multiple jobs on the line. People in our factories whose jobs are going to be replaced by people working in China making these reusable bags.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. Back to Roger. I'm wondering about jobs you have a response to the?

ROGER KUBE: Recent report that was released spoke on this issue. There is further analysis that needs to be done. Most of the 1800 Californians working in plastic bags manufacturing, most of these manufacturers also have wide range of products and are able of transitioning. With the transition to reusable bags, one idea to help mitigate some of the negative impact to businesses is by switching to greater reusable bag production to meet new standards. We do not want to put people out of work, and that is not the goal of this. At the same time, looking at the greater good for society and reducing pollution, this is at the forefront of our minds.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Focusing on this proposal in the city of San Diego, there are actually many exceptions to the proposed ordinance. Many nonfood stores can still provide plastic grocery bags. For example, Home Depot and other big retailers. What is the rationale for excluding those businesses?

ROGER KUBE: I believe that they are looking to take a more conservative approach. I think the impact that this is having is that I've seen the inequality of Home Depot excluded, and small grocery market stores included. From the Surfrider standpoint, our position is that we would like to see all retail stores in this process. One of the few items that we agree on. They will revisit this in twenty-four months, the idea of including all stores in this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I would like to bring in another guest, Jack Macy. Welcome to the program. In San Francisco, how has the plastic bag ban been received?

JACK MACY: Actually, very well. Our ban is comprehensive, we include all stores and retailers. And they were all added a year ago. Then we added restaurants on October first. So, I think that people when they get used to it, they get reminded and if they happen to not bring a bag and need the convenience of being given a bag, and they are charged for it they get reminded right at the point-of-sale to change behavior. They were taking bags before and some people want the convenience. It is included in the cost of goods.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, San Francisco has phased this program in. First, grocery stores and then you've broadened it?

JACK MACY: We were the first city to ban plastic bags. Originally we looked at putting a charge on plastic bags, but then we put in a last-minute thing to prevent government from requiring a charge. That took that off the table. We said let's banned them because there are acceptable alternatives. People can bring bags. We did that in 2007 and we just started with some of the grocery supermarkets and pharmacy chains. More communities across the state followed suit. We have a significant population involved in this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We just heard from Cathy that San Francisco has more plastic bag litter on the streets now than it used, to is that true?

JACK MACY: That's a ridiculous statement, she has her facts wrong. We had one study done before and after that ban completely went into effect over a period of two years. It was a two-stage ban, grocery stores and pharmacies stands over a course of a year and basically before the ban and after we saw 18% decrease with that litter study, but more significantly with that looks at the one-time slap shot of looking at sites on the city. We saw a reduction in contamination in our recycling and composting streams - which were costing the city a lot - and we see a difference. We see a difference across the city of litter pollution and the storm drain clogging and we know that is had impact. The fact is, stores were giving out over 100 million bags a year and they stopped. There are no more of these plastic bags being given out so we know that there's not a lot left out there. Now we're seeing that significant amount of people reusing bags.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much. We have a caller who wants to join the conversation. Jeff from Alpine.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you like the idea of the ban? Or are you opposed to it?

NEW SPEAKER: I was a big opponent of that and the big hassle and I didn't like it. I will tell you, within a month I got so used to bringing my own bags it was not inconvenience at all. In fact, recently they went back to using plastic bags and I complained about it and I continue to bring my reusables and I find it actually is much more convenient. I understand the idea of not wanting to use them but quickly you get used to it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for the call. I appreciate it. Roger, a few cents for a bag is not too much for most people, but people who are struggling too do not need any extra expenses. Does not this burden fall harder on the lower income people?

ROGER KUBE: We're sensitive to the impact on any consumer. Recent reports show that the increase in cost to households would be seven dollars for the first year. With the purchase of reusable bags in the initial year that is why the number is high. As the reusable bags are reused the numbers will go down. At the same time the city of San Diego and poor nations like this recognize the potential impact so we're all poised to do bag giveaways in those areas that will be negatively impacted by this. There are ways to mitigate the increased cost to the consumer.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Do you expect ñ if this band is actually approved ñ are people going to see the difference on the beaches?

ROGER KUBE: People will see the difference. Plastic is just the tip of the iceberg. This issue is well-documented, it wreaks havoc on the entire environment and the economy. Looking at the bigger picture is critical. Plastic bags are just one portion of the problem, this happens to be the easiest way for a city to take a step in reducing the problem.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you very much.