September 23, 2009

San Jose does the right thing; can Big Chemical stay out of it?

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Congratulations to the citizens of San Jose for having a city council with the vision to become the largest city in the nation to ban most paper and plastic shopping bags. Not only did the the city take those steps last night, but they brought along other cities in the county with them, the San Jose Mercury reports this morning.

Let’s hope now that the history doesn’t repeat itself like it did in Seattle recently, where the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying arm of the plastics industry, spent $1.4 million to first put on the ballot a measure to require voter approval, and then defeat the ballot measure that would have imposed a 20-cent per disposal bag tax. The money was used, frankly, to buy a campaign to confuse and scare voters. The opposition, vastly outgunned, spent only $80,000 to try to get the referendum passed. (By comparison, all eight candidates for mayor on the same Seattle ballot spent a combined $1 million. So in the city’s context, it was big money, and contributors included Dow Chemical, ExxonMobil and plastic bag manufacturers.)

The plastics industry has aggressively challenged bans elsewhere in court, including Oakland, where a ban was put on hold after the plastics industry filed a lawsuit challenging the city’s ban on plastic bags.

Will that replay itself in San Jose?

The American Chemistry Council has not been silent. The most concerted opposition to date has come from the Chemistry Council, which has urged the city to avoid the bag ban and continue public education campaigns urging residents to bring their own bags and recycle extra plastic bags.

“A ban is really not the environmentally best option to be choosing  (because) in most scenarios you’re going to force people into paper, which has its own environmental problems,” council spokesman Tim Shestek told the Montery County Herald recently . “There’s a better way to do it that’s more friendly, and we think that way is recycling.”

But the industry’s successes in Seattle and Oakland may be an island of success. San Francisco moved ahead in 2007 with its version of the plastic bag ban, as has Los Angeles, which institutes a ban on plastic bags next year, but only if the state fails to impose a 25-cent fee on every shopper who requests them. Even Mexico City has taken steps to limit bag usage and require bags made of biodegradable plastic, as reported earlier on InvestigateWest. San Jose’s ban wouldn’t take effect until 2011. That’s a lot of time for bags to continue to collect in streams, landfills, sewers and ultimately, San Francisco Bay. But the council’s action also includes most paper bags, which also consume large amounts of greenhouse gases, and is a major new front in the war against needless pollution of our planet.

— Rita Hibbard

One thought on “San Jose does the right thing; can Big Chemical stay out of it?

  1. Before you congratulate the Chemistry Council on victory in Seattle you might want to critique the weak approach by the promoters of a bag tax. The key word here is “ban”. Seattle pols never had the nerve to do what needed to be done and suffered the consequences. The whole thing was typical of the ousted current leadership (if you can call it that). All the industry needed to do was point out the ridiculous flaws in the approach. As someone firmly behind a “bag ban”, there was no way I would vote for a measure whose cowardly approach was to not ban anything but put measures in place to make the little guy pay while carefully avoiding offending large retail chains. San Jose did it right. Try again Seattle.