Thursday, May 31st, 2012
The recent decision by the Los Angeles City Council, a 13-1 vote to ban plastic bags at supermarket checkouts, makes L.A. the largest American city to approve this type of ban. It also brings into sharper focus how emotion and the need for a quick fix cab push reasonable, long-term thinking to the sidelines regarding the real issue—littering.
To a student of history this should be reminiscent of witch-hunts: conjuring up and punishing a scapegoat to, at least for the moment, calm the hysterical crowds. And as with witch-hunts of old, when that moment has passed not only have we done nothing to address the real issue, we have let things worsen.
Mark Daniels, who chairs the American Progressive Bag Alliance, responded immediately to the city council’s decision. He told one national newspaper that, “Singling out and banning one product does not reduce litter. The city chose to take a simplistic approach that takes away consumer choice.” He added that the ban would move people to use “less environmentally friendly reusable bags, which are produced overseas and cannot be recycled.”
For instance, the durability of plastics is often given as a reason for the bans when, in fact, durability is one of the best reasons why plastics should be recycled. Recent Life Cycle Analyses (LCA) show that plastics have a smaller overall impact on the environment in terms of carbon emissions and greenhouse gases than other packaging materials, and that recycling increases that advantage.
Also, there is little to no discussion of why plastics have become so widely used over the last 50-60 years. Both the general public and the government bodies ruling on bag bans seem unaware that plastics have become the prevalent packaging material because they provide a range of consumer benefits, such as a significant reduction in food spoilage and subsequent waste.
Plastics have displaced metal, paper, and glass because they offer the best functionality while also being the most affordable material choice. Recycling further increases those advantages. The ability to tailor plastic packaging to meet specific performance and design goals cannot be matched with other materials, making plastics a key to innovation.
Jobs, jobs, jobs. We read every day of continuing stagnation in the U.S. economy; that we could slide back into a double-dip recession; that our current high unemployment may be systemic rather than transient. And yet we see the Los Angeles City Council replicating an earlier decision of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to ban plastic bags from supermarkets, a decision that, if implemented, is almost certain to eliminate jobs in the city and county of Los Angeles, elsewhere in California, and in other states as well.
The U.S. plastics industry, which is the country’s third-largest industrial sector and enjoys a positive balance of foreign trade, employs about 900,000 Americans overall. More than 30,000 of those jobs are in the manufacturing or recycling of plastic bags at facilities located in 349 communities across the nation. Roughly 1,900 of those jobs are in California, some of them in or near Los Angeles.
A group of employees from the bag maker Crown Poly, which is located east of downtown Los Angeles, appeared before the city council to testify about their jobs (See video below). What they said often about their jobs is that they wanted to keep them, and many noted that their jobs support their families. The heartfelt presentations of these local citizens apparently were not important to the 13 council members voting for the ban on plastic bags and 10-cent tax on paper bags.
Daniels further noted that the council’s action is not final or immediate. “There are still significant steps in the process before a plastic bag ban and paper bag tax would go into effect. Among them, city officials must conduct an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) and develop the draft language for the ordinance,” he said. “This process will likely take months to complete, if not longer, and if at that point the ordinance is approved, there will still be an extended period of time
before the ordinance ia fully implemented.”
Crown Poly Employees Speak Before Los Angeles City Council, But in Vain