Three California lawsuits highlight bag ban struggle

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SAN FRANCISCO (Feb. 16, 2 p.m. ET) — The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition has its hands in several lawsuits fighting against bag bans in California.

A suit against Santa Cruz County is wrapping up, a suit against San Luis Obispo County Integrated Waste Management Authority is in its midst and a suit against the City and County of San Francisco will be filed within the next 30 days.

The Santa Cruz County suit was filed in response to a September 2011 ordinance that banned plastic bags in restaurants. However, the California Retail Food Code prohibits local bans of plastic bags at restaurants. Stephen Joseph, counsel for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, said the County Board of Supervisors has repealed the ban and the suit has concluded.

“We have advised all jurisdictions that we will sue to invalidate any ban of plastic bags at restaurants,” Joseph said.

Still in progress, the suit against San Luis Obispo County IWMA is based on the organization’s claim that they are exempt from preparing an Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act before instituting a bag ban.

Joseph said the California Supreme Court requires comprehensive environmental reviews to be conducted to determine environmental impact before such a ban can be enacted if the city or county has a population larger than 33,000. San Luis Obispo’s population is 270,000.

Joseph recently adjusted the suit to exclude cities as defendants to focus specifically on the IWMA.

The third suit encompasses both issues from the previous lawsuits. The City and County of San Francisco’s ordinance to ban plastic bags pertains to retail stores and restaurants, which, Joseph reiterated, goes against the California Retail Food Code. He also said San Francisco did not prepare an EIR.

“Environmental groups have been spreading myths, misinformation, and exaggerations about plastic bags and plastics in general for many years,” Joseph said. “For much too long, the plastics industry didn’t fight back against the misinformation campaign.”

The San Francisco-based Save the Plastic Bag Coalition was formed in 2008 and Joseph said they have succeeded in their initiatives to convince major environmental groups to back down from what he refers to as some of their “wilder claims,” such as the collection of detrimental marine debris and the notion that plastic bags are more environmentally hazardous than paper bags.

“Our campaign is fighting for environmental truth, which is a wonderful cause,” Joseph said. “Environmental policy should be based on facts, not hype.”