Thanks to the Palo Alto Weekly, now we know the story behind the petition in that California city that opposed a ban on plastic bags. According to the Weekly's report, Dart Container Corp. was the driving force behind the pro-plastics campaign. Dart Container is typically a publicity-shy company, but a spokesman confirmed that the company sponsored the letter campaign. "We don't think there's a full understanding of what we believe the facts to be," Dart spokesman Jim Lammers told the Weekly. "The issues surrounding the ban are much more nuanced and complicated than I think people realize and the stated goals to be achieved by these bans are not going to be realized by selecting as the target of the ban foam products." The newspaper talked to some of the people who signed Dart's opposition letters, and found a pretty wide range of opinions about the campaign:
Some local employees who signed the letter genuinely said they believe plastic bags or foam containers are critical to their businesses. Others said they had limited information and just signed because they were asked to by the Dart Container representative, a woman who visited restaurants and food stores on California Avenue, the Stanford Shopping Center, Town & Country Village and along University Avenue in early March. A man also brought the letter to hotels along El Camino Real. It is addressed to the City Council and begins: "I AM AGAINST A BAN ON POLYSTYRENE FOODSERVICE CONTAINERS AND PLASTIC BAGS." Mladen Lucich, a manager at Michael's Gelato & Cafe, and James Choi, a manager at Teuscher Palo Alto, said the woman who asked them to sign was from Dart Container. "I'm sure that's the company," Lucich said. He said he signed "to be nice to her." Michael's Gelato & Cafe on University Avenue, a family business, will be able to adjust to whatever rule the city sets, he said. Choi said he was told the ban would affect the packages for Teuscher's chocolates. "Until she brought this up, I had on idea what was going on," Choi said. "When they come to us with a one-sided case, you sign it." One signee from a downtown restaurant, who asked to remain anonymous, said he didn't have strong feelings about a ban on plastic bags of polystyrene containers. "But she asked me a couple times, so I said, 'Sure.'" A manager at a local hotel, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: "I signed something about plastic cups, but I can't remember. . . . We use plastic cups, that's why I signed it." David King, manager of Su Hong Eatery, confirmed he had signed the letter. "I just thought that was what the city wanted. I don't really care," he said. Jugal Shah, who works at the front desk at Palo Alto's Comfort Inn, said a man told him he wouldn't be able to use cups for coffee. "He was, like, 'It's going to ruin my business,'" Shah said. Other signees do want to keep plastic bags and Styrofoam containers around. "Ninety-nine percent of people come in wanting bags," Spot A Pizza Place Manager Vu Tran said. "I don't see why not give them bags. It's convenient. How are you going to hold four sodas if you don't have a bag?" The Polish Deli's founder Martin Klosek said that many of his customers already bring their own bags but that eliminating plastic bags entirely would be expensive. "I don't want to pay more money for this," Klosek said. Eliminating Styrofoam would also be tough for Jamba Juice, Shift Supervisor Chris Nguyen said.The paper goes on to say that "The powerful plastic and container industry has mobilized against a movement among local governments to ban their products." That's a common attitude -- you might say misconception -- about the plastics industry. Considering the size of the industry, it's quite fragmented and not a major political player. That's one reason it tries to use grass-roots lobbying efforts like this one from Dart Container. Was Dart right to get involved? And how will cities and the public react to such efforts?