Patty Fisher of the San Jose Mercury News has discovered that Stephen Joseph, counsel for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition and SaveThePlasticBag.com, is a quotable character. Fisher writes in her column, "The environmentalist who wants to save the plastic bag," that she called Joseph to get "the other side" in a column that she planned to write "trumpeting the joys of life without plastic." But the column took on a new spin after she talked to Joseph. She discovered that Joseph seriously considers himself an environmentalist. (As I've written before, many people in the plastics industry feel that way about themselves, although that's sometimes hard for outsiders to believe.) The difference with Joseph is that he has a platform, with the Save the Plastics Bag group, and he can come off as refreshingly convincing. "When I was first approached by the plastic bag manufacturers, I thought it was a joke," he told Fisher. But he felt that there were virtues to plastic bags -- yes, even environmental-related virtues, having to do with energy savings. Joseph felt the answer to plastic-bag related litter and marine debris problems was a massive recycling campaign. "But the environs stopped us," he told Fisher. "They didn't want to recycle them, they wanted to ban them altogether. There was this religion about it. It didn't matter what you said, they wouldn't listen." Joseph is a quotable character, eh? We discovered that a few years ago, when Plastics News staff reporter Mike Verespej started to talk to Joseph about a plastic bag recycling project called Stripes2Stripes. "I have never gotten involved in an industry so lacking in leadership as this one," Joseph told us at the time. "This industry has gotten so used to not being represented by a competent trade organization that it has hypnotized itself and convinced itself it is doing the right thing." He added: "This industry needs to be better organized, fight for what it believes in, and address the problems instead of saying that it is the environmental activist's fault. But they would rather just do public relations and feel good exercises." Joseph is up to his neck in being involved now. Is his work starting to make a difference? While he managed to entertain Fisher, the columnist with the Mercury News, it doesn't look like Joseph converted her to side of plastics bag advocates. Fisher writes in her column, "Joseph may be clever and passionate, but he's on the losing side of this battle. The state is forcing cities to cut down on waste that litters our waterways, and plastic bags make an easy target. Eventually, the state will ban them and we'll all be carting stuff around in reusable bags." Thanks to Novachem blogger Frank Van Haste, who sent me a link to a post that he wrote about Fisher's column today titled "This is refreshing." Van Haste writes: "kudos to the Mercury News' Ms. Fisher for her open mindedness and willingness to speak truth rather than parroting the conventional wisdom of the day. She still believes that the days of single-use bags are numbered, but she declines to condemn plastic bags reflexively -- good for her!"
Stephen Joseph, plastic bag advocate and environmentalist
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