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Politics, Money Doomed Calif. Plastic Bag Bill


Legislation to ban plastic grocery bags in California failed to pass this week. Supporters say election year politics and a down economy were among the reasons the bill didn't succeed.

Legislation to ban plastic grocery bags in California failed to pass this week. Supporters said election year politics and a down economy were among the reasons the bill didn't succeed.

Supporters of the bill to ban plastic grocery bags said it would have reduced the amount of trash polluting waterways and harming wildlife.

But the legislation was defeated in the state Senate, despite bi-partisan support from legislators, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the retail grocery industry.

"I think what happened in the end is the lack of political will on the part of some legislators, even ones who have authored very strong clean water bills in the past and environmental bills," said Steve Aceti, executive director of the California Coastal Coalition.

Aceti said at a recent Surfrider Foundation beach cleanup, volunteers collected 74,000 plastic bags on just one day.

"As a state we use 19-million bags, single use plastic bags, a year. And one reusable bag would replace 6-million plastic bags over its life," said Aceti.

Aceti said it costs an estimated $25 million to cleanup the plastic litter across California.

Dan Jacobson, legislative director with Environment California, blames a powerful industry group for the bill's failure.

"I just really think it was the power of the American Chemistry Council," said Jacobson. "They were making a lot of campaign contributions in an election year, a lot of misleading ads and a lot of lobbyists."

The American Chemistry Council represents plastic makers.

"If the bill had passed it would have meant higher grocery costs for consumers, put several hundred, if not 1,000, manufacturing jobs at risk," said Tim Shestek with the American Chemistry Council. "And really it would have required the state to spend some new money in terms of a new bureaucracy to oversee the implementation of this law."

But Dan Jacobson said that's not true.

Jacobson said some of the larger plastic bag manufacturers in the state would have been able to retool to make reusable plastic bags.

"This is a classic argument that you see from an industry that doesn't want to change and that is using the economy as a opportunity to fear-monger with some of our state legislators," said Jacobson. "I mean no one wants to see unemployment go any higher. And this bill actually would've helped by creating more jobs in the plastic plants that we had."

But Shestek said retooling assembly lines and retraining workers would have been too expensive.

Jacobson said without a statewide ban, local cities and counties around the state will be urged to pass local ordinances.

He said without some changes in behavior, some of the products we use will continue to harm wildlife and the environment.

"Whether it's styrofoam takeout containers, whether its plastic bags, whether it's disposable batteries, we've got to get away from products that we only use for a couple of minutes but that stay around for hundreds of years and harm the environment," said Jacobson.

Steve Aceti with the California Coastal Coalition said people can still bring their own bags when they shop.

"Even without a statewide ban people can start changing their behavior and bring reusable bags and show the stores that they don't need the single-use bags," said Aceti.

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