Editorial: Approve the plastic bag ban despite unconscionable ads

Editorial Board
San Jose Mercury News
November 3, 2016

The two plastic bags propositions on the California ballot were confusing enough for voters before misleading advertisements started flooding the airwaves. Ignore them.

Here is all you need to know:

Proposition 67 upholds the statewide ban on one-time plastic bag use that the Legislature passed. Vote “yes.” Plastic bags are awful for wildlife and the environment, and California state, county and local governments spend an estimated $400 million — roughly $10 per resident — every year trying to clean them up.

Proposition 65 would require proceeds of grocery store sales of paper bags to go to a wildlife fund. It sounds attractive, but there are sound reasons why even environmental groups are united in opposing Prop. 65. Vote “no.”

First, on the ban itself — California voters need to know that 98 percent of the millions of dollars spent on advertising against the plastic bag ban comes from out-of-state manufacturers. The biggest contribution of $2.7 million comes from Hilex Plastics of South Carolina. Two Texas manufacturers and a New Jersey bag maker have tossed in about $1 million apiece to promote their misleading campaign.

Small wonder. Every Californian, on average, uses about 400 plastic bags a year, reportedly creating a $1 million a month profit for plastic bag manufacturers. They’re desperate to kill the proposed ban before it spreads to other states.

The industry is arguing that a ban won’t reduce waste or litter. Now that’s garbage.

San Jose banned plastic bags in 2012 and reports 59 percent fewer plastic bags on city streets and a 60 percent reduction in its creeks. For a city with budget challenges, the cost savings for cleanups, including clearing clogged storm drains, is substantial.

Hate litter on freeways and rural roads? Don’t we all. Take a look sometime at what’s there. Those white bags are easy to pick out even on the rare occasion traffic is moving at the speed limit.

Meanwhile, volunteers picked up 1.3 million plastic bags on just one recent Coastal Cleanup Day. The damage those bags wreak is heartbreaking. Plastic accounts for 60-80 percent of all marine debris and harms and kills wildlife in devastating numbers.

Gov. Jerry Brown acknowledged that destruction when he signed a 2014 law banning plastic bags statewide. But the plastic bag manufacturers collected enough signatures to put Propositions 67 and 65 on the 2016 ballot, delaying implementation of the law.

Their motive for Prop. 65 is just craven. It is, as we’ve said before, one of the most disingenuous ballot measures in state history. And in California, that’s saying something.

The plastic bag industry targets the bag ban’s provision that grocers can charge 10 cents for each paper bag when shoppers don’t bring their reusable bags. The industry says that’s a “special interest giveaway,” and the money should go to a special wildlife fund. Here’s why that’s wrong.

Sen. Kevin de Leon led the effort to enact a statewide ban, and he included the provision so grocery stores would be able to recoup the expense of providing paper bags. Profits from those bags are negligible.

Wildlife supporters obviously agree. The Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Save Our Shores, the Surfrider Foundation and a host of other environmental groups strongly oppose Prop. 65. Grocery stores have supported the bag ban partly because they wouldn’t lose money on the deal. To their credit, they still support the ban, which makes the plastics industry plot all the more disgusting.

Don’t let out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers stop California from ridding itself of billions of bags that clog our drains, fill our landfills and pollute our waterways.

Vote “yes” on Prop. 67 and “no” on Prop. 65.

Read Editorial here.