The city of Los Angeles, the nation’s second most populous city and one of the world’s largest economic centers, did not casually nor hastily adopt its plastic grocery bag ban. Careful environmental studies and solid economic facts led to one thoughtful conclusion: Single-use plastic grocery bags are bad for the economy and bad for the environment.
A global shift is under way away from these plastic bags that pollute our shores and streams, cause costly stoppages at recycling plants, increase storm wastewater costs and pose a grave threat to certain wildlife.
As noted in a Viewpoints commentary (“A better plastic bag – not a ban on them – is the answer to recycling,” Sept. 25), there is an added cost and increased environmental impact in solely using paper bags – but it is simply not true that banning plastic bags, if done correctly, will lead to the skyrocketing use of paper bags or the felling of more trees.
Data collected from grocery retailers by local jurisdictions that have implemented “ban/charge” ordinances, such as San Jose and Los Angeles County, have shown a dramatic reduction in single-use paper bag consumption – as much as 90 percent.
Each year in California, more than 14 billion single-use plastic bags are handed out by retailers, only 5 percent of which are recycled, according to CalRecycle. Californians pay an estimated $25 million annually to collect and bury plastic bag waste. These bags slow down and jam sorting machinery at recycling centers. Sacramento officials report that its materials recovery facility shuts down an average six times per day to remove plastic from the machines.
Banning single-use plastic bags doesn’t just make environmental sense – it makes economic sense.
The authors in the Viewpoints article are correct that business should create a sustainable solution to the growing concerns of carryout bags.
But the question should not be “paper or plastic” – nor should it be anti-plastic altogether. The question is how to develop smarter plastics.
The answer is simple, we must phase out single-use bags to create a market for innovative alternatives, and we must adopt a statewide roadmap for cities, counties and businesses.
More than 80 cities and counties in California have enacted some sort of plastic bag ban. State Sen. Alex Padilla authored Senate Bill 405, a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags designed to protect businesses from patchwork compliance standards while creating green jobs in the reusable bag space.
Businesses, consumers and the environmental community are working together to foster innovation while safeguarding citizens. It is time for California to join – and be a leader – in this movement.
Ronald K. Fong is president and CEO of the California Grocers Association. Daniel Jacobson is legislative director of Environment California.