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KPBS Midday Edition

California's Plastic Bag Ban Bill Moves Forward

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California’s Plastic Bag Ban Bill Moves Forward
California's Plastic Bag Ban Bill Moves Forward
Plastic Bag Ban Bill Moves Forward GUESTS Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability and environment, Hilex Poly, plastic bag manufacturer Roger Kube, chair, Surfrider Foundation San Diego County

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh. A statewide plastic grocery bag ban is nearing a definitive vote in the California legislature. The ban would spell the end for the lightweight plastic bags that have been holding groceries for decades, and many claim spoiling the environment, especially in coastal areas. The bill also provides to being dollars to plastic bag manufacturers to retool production to reusable grocery bags. Joining me to discuss the upcoming vote are my guests, Mark Daniels and Roger Kube. Welcome to the show. Single use plastic bag phaseout, SB 270 passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week. It is headed for assembly now. Is this the bill that environmentalists wanted to fix the plastic bag problem? ROGER KUBE: At the state level, the state bill has been compromised to satisfy everyone's needs. We do support SB 270. It is the best bill that has been before the Senate and assembly of the last six years that we have been trying. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What problems do you have with it, if any? ROGER KUBE: Ultimately, we would love to see a plastic bag ordinance to apply to all retail stores. This bill does not apply to all retail stores, large grocery scores, policies, and eventually bringing in convenience stores and liquor stores as well. We would like to see it apply to all retail stores, but we also realize at the state level that is probably not going to happen at this point. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the impact of plastic bags on the environment? ROGER KUBE: The evidence out there is well-documented and clear. Plastic pollution in general wreak havoc on the land, waterways, and the marine environment. There's a threat to wildlife, integrates our environment, and imposes a potential human health risk based on recent studies that have come out. It also comes with a substantial economic costs. Recently, at the annual our ocean conference which is an international gathering of about eighty countries including the US, plastic pollution was identified as one of the top three items plaguing the ocean today. We see that on a regular basis with San Diego Coastkeeper, about forty-five public beach cleanups every year, fully intact plastic bags account for the fourth most common item that we collect, about 80% of what we find is plastic pollution. Cleanups, awareness, education, those are key elements to address this issue. It's really only part of the solution. Producer and consumer response ability is necessary, but we need policymakers to act as well. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Plastic bag manufacturers are fighting hard against this bill, even though it includes compensation for manufacturers. Why is there such a tough fight about this? MARK DANIELS Thank you again for having me on the show. This is a tough fight because so much of the misinformation. Surfrider had to pull down the widely repeated claim that rustic bags are responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million marine animals. That is absolutely incorrect. Their own scientist, Rick Wilson, admitted that it is difficult to track down any definitive scientific source for it. The same with another thing they always say, 100,000 marine animals are killed by plastic bags, that was done by a Marine pollution bulletin in Newfoundland in 1987 that targeted fishing nets, plastic bags were not even mentioned. We just want a fact based conversation. Roger just said that plastic pollution is 80%, that may be true, I don't know, obviously no amount of pollution is correct in the land or the waters, but plastic grocery bags, according to Ocean Conservancy's 2014 Intercoastal Cleanup Report shows that plastic grocery bags were 1.7%. I think that is too high, but the information that is being portrayed out there is actually inaccurate. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How much money and how many jobs are at stake according to the plastic bag industry, if this ban goes into effect? MARK DANIELS The California Grocers Association and their associated union, the United Food and Commercial Workers are paying millions of dollars lobbying this to get it through. They realize they're going to get unprecedented transfers of wealth of up to $442 million every year based on the fully retained fee of ten cents per paper bag and have your use plastic bags. What is ironic on this, the grocers don't have to pay any tax back to the government on this. I am the chairman of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, there are 30,800 jobs in manufacturing and recycling plastic bags, and there are 2000 high-paying high skill wage jobs in the state of California. Some of these manufacturers will manufacture of his bags and things that are not banned, but if you take out the share of what their manufacturing, your significantly putting 2000 jobs at risk in California just exporting them to make reusable bags in China. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Mark, you are speaking to us from Southern Carolina, that is where you are based. We tried very hard to get a California-based manufacturer to talk to us about this, why are you speaking out about it all the way in South Carolina? MARK DANIELS I happen to reside in the coast of Florida, where I have done 300 coastal cleanups here in Florida, over the course of the last three years, we have found plastic retail bags, plastic sandwich bags, ice bags, bait bags. I represent those 30,800 jobs, so that is why I was asked to come on the show and debate Roger. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Roger, let me pick up on a point of Marx. Instead of plastic bags, shoppers would have to pay at least ten cents per paper bag at the grocery store, a be more for a reusable plastic bag. Are paper bags a good substitute? ROGER KUBE: They are absolutely not a good substitute. That is the point of the tents and fee, is that the paper tag fee is important so that people will bring their own bags instead of switching to another environmentally destructive single use back. LA county actually sought they were bag use go down because of this fee, so we're seeing that fee actually work. The state mimics another 115 cities and counties that have adopted plastic bag reduction ordinances, and based on the research and evidence of those ordinances, the ten cent fee works to incentivize people to bring reusable bags. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But that fee, the ten cents people will be paying, that fee stays with the grocery store. Shouldn't that be going toward cleaning the environment? ROGER KUBE: We wish you could, but unfortunately due to legislation pushed through the state law but by the American Chemistry Council, years ago, when San Francisco enacted their ordinance. That fee cannot go back to the government, it's against state law for that fee to go the government. Therefore, the author of SB 270 proposed amendments restricting what grocers can do with the money. They can only spend it on the cost of compliance, education, and providing bags under the amendment. This is the same role that LA county, city and others have. Prior to this amendment it to be argued it would turn a profit for grocers, but at this point with the amendments it is not the case anymore. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As part of what you are talking about, but the reason you say grocery stores and supermarkets are going to make money on this, that would be one of the reasons why they are supporting single use plastic backbends, is that right? MARK DANIELS It is hundreds of millions of dollars because the pocketbooks of the shareholders of the grocery stores. I would add too, you are incorrect, the law that said you cannot put a fee on plastic bags was ended in January 2013. So is fully applicable that if there were to be eight be on paper or plastic bags or both, that it could actually go to the public good. ROGER KUBE: My mistake, I remember you are correct. MARK DANIELS That's okay, this is just really a cash grab by the grocers. Our industry is in favor of working with the assembly members and the Senate in Sacramento, to come up with something that will not hurt employment, that will not hurt consumers, that will mitigate plastic bags being used. But we still maintain scientific ltter studies, plastic bag and retail bag litter in San Francisco was 0.60%. San Jose, 0.40%. The EPA has documented that old plastic bags, not just retail bags, are 0.40% of the waste stream going into the pencil environment. That includes the 70% of plastic bags reused for trashcan liners, pet waste, baby diaper containment, things like that. That is why we are fighting so vigorously. All of the information out there, a lot of it is based on mythology. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you a question, part of the SB 270 is, as I was saying, compensation to plastic bag manufacturers to have them retool manufacturing operations, to be able to produce reusable plastic bags, therefore staying in business, and retaining jobs as the production would change to reusables. Why would that not work? MARK DANIELS Thank you for bringing that back. With 75% of bags being reused, we don't consider them a single use. We have several manufacturers throughout the United States. One extruder to extrude heavier gauge film, one printing press, one converting line would cost in the neighborhood of $7-$9 million. That is just for one. $2 million, it's not even a token amount. It would do nothing. It would add half of the line and half of the job to run that particular product. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you're saying it is not enough money. MARK DANIELS By a factor of 100 it is not enough money. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Roger, many cities in California have banned plastic bags, including Solana Beach, just up the coast. What is the impact? Do we have any way of knowing whether or not these bans are effective? ROGER KUBE: As far as Solana Beach is concerned, I am unaware of any reports that they have put out. Outside of Solana Beach, LA county saw a 90% reduction in plastic bags, San Jose and San Francisco put out reports as well. As we move along, more reporting and more evidence comes out that this is having an impact. I also want to address a couple of things that Mark mentioned. While plastic check out bags may be a small percentage of the waste stream, it is important to look at the big picture here. While plastic checkout bags make up a small percentage of the waste stream, plastic pollution is really the issue here. Plastic checkout bags, it's an easy way for legislators to reduce the source of plastic pollution, because we have more environmentally friendly alternatives in reusable bags. Plastic checkout bags are not the only problem here, but it is an easy way to have an impact. The chips away at the problem. MARK DANIELS Will you be sitting at the dining room table when mom or dad comes home and tells them they have lost their income, their job, the 401(k), their opportunity for advancement? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me step in, because we have only about thirty seconds left. Mark, some of California's biggest cities have already implemented the ban. Isn't the writing on the wall for you guys? This is going to happen either incrementally or with the statewide ban, so what are you going to do? MARK DANIELS We're going to continue to fight with the facts. It's very important, there are backbends, 80% in California, we recognize that. There are a lot of lemmings jumping off the cliff together there. But as far as the United States population in the amount of plastic bag bans out there, yes it is fractional. Again, because there are such low litter rates, all of the waste management budgets for San Jose, San Francisco, their budgets have actually increased in solid waste management, so it has been terribly inefficient. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I have to end it there. I would like to thank my guests, and I would also like to let everyone know the plastic bag ban must be voted on by the legislature by the end of the session, which is the end of this month.

A statewide plastic grocery bag ban is nearing a definitive vote in the California Legislature.

Senate Bill 270, which would phase out single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week and now heads to the full Assembly.

It would also provide $2 million to plastic bag manufacturers to retool their production to reusable grocery bags and retrain workers.

Roger Kube is chair of the San Diego County Surfrider chapter. He said the Surfrider Foundation has championed efforts to ban plastic bags throughout California.

“We’re on the forefront of the plastic pollution issue,” Kube said, “In San Diego County we host over 45 public beach cleanups per year. About 80 percent of what we find is plastic pollution, and fully intact plastic checkout bags make up the fourth most commonly found item.”

But plastic bag makers are opposed to the ban and say it will hurt their business and jobs.

Mark Daniels, with national plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly, doubts the Assembly will approve the ban.

“We have many, many legislators that really think this is a very bad piece of legislation,” Daniels said.

Dozens of cities across the state have banned the single-use of plastic bags, including Solana Beach. The city of San Diego has tabled the issue for now.