Fed up over a growing number of proposed plastic bags bans, a coalition of plastics manufacturers, distributors and recyclers have filed a lawsuit to force the city of Oakland, Calif., to preclude enforcing its ban until it completes an environmental impact report.
The lawsuit was filed Aug. 3 in Alameda County Superior Court by the Coalition to Support Plastic Bags. The group claims the California Environmental Quality Act requires public entities to document and consider the environmental impact of their decisions.
The group also is considering filing a lawsuit against the city of Fairfax, Calif., which enacted a similar ban Aug. 1. That ban is slated to go into effect March 1. No action is planned at this time against a San Francisco ban, which becomes effective Nov. 20.
``We are seeing different jurisdictions considering this,'' said Michael Mills, a Sacramento, Calif., lawyer who filed the suit on behalf of the plastic bag coalition. ``We have to call to people's attention that the law is not being followed.''
All three cities require the use of compostable or nonpetroleum-based recyclable checkout bags. The Oakland and San Francisco laws apply to grocery stores and pharmacies with more than $1 million in sales; the Fairfax law applies to all retailers in the city.
Other cities considering plastic bag bans are Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Baltimore and Annapolis, Md. The city of Gilroy, Calif., voted July 20 to scrap a plastic bag ban scheduled to go into effect later this year.
``I've been a real skeptic about filing a lawsuit because, ultimately, I am not sure how effective it will be,'' said coalition member and Oakland resident Kevin Kelly. Kelly is CEO of Emerald Packaging Inc., a family-owned firm in Union City, Calif., that makes printed plastic produce bags.
``It's not an approach that I have embraced in the past. But I became convinced that they really hadn't done their homework,'' Kelly said. ``There is so much misinformation about plastic bags that someone has to say, `Timeout - let's really look at what the impact of banning plastics is.' ''
The coalition's other members comprise two of the three member companies in the Progressive Bag Alliance - Superbag Operating Ltd. and Advance Polybag Inc.; produce bag manufacturer Crown Poly Inc.; plastic bag distributor Elkay Plastics Co. Inc.; recycler Fresh Pak Corp.; plastic bag manufacturers Grand Packaging Inc and Hilex Poly Co. LLC; and Heritage Plastics Inc., an extruder, injection molder and compounder whose products include plastic film.
The plastic bag coalition's petition claims that ``substantial evidence exists in the record that, if implemented, the ordinance will result in adverse environmental impacts.'' According to the coalition, impacts include contaminating the process for recycling plastic bags, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and adding more pollutants to water resources.
``The manufacturing of paper bags generates 50 times more water pollutants than the manufacturing of plastic bags,'' the lawsuit states.
Kelly, who attended committee and council meetings in Oakland that led to the bans, noted that his firm, Emerald Packaging, does not make the kinds of bags that Oakland plans to ban.
``But I am deeply concerned about the image of plastics and that the types of ban could widen to other types of plastics packaging,'' he said.
``Plastic bags have, quite unfortunately, become the metaphor of a wasteful society,'' Kelly said. ``It sounds progressive and it looks like you are dealing with the problem, but if you ban them, it just means greater volume of other materials going into landfills.''