Pete Grande, president and CEO of Command Packaging in Vernon, Calif., wrote a powerful defense of plastic bags in an op-ed column published today on the Los Angeles Times Web site. Headlined "The unintended consequences of a plastic bag ban," Grande writes that if California adopts a ban on plastic bags, consumers would switch to environmentally unfriendly paper bags, and the state would lose jobs. "Simply put, the phrase 'Ban the bag' is a sound bite, not a solution. It's a proposal that will make legislators feel good rather than do good. In fact, it will do much harm," Grande wrote.
Here are the facts. First, the ban will have an immediate impact. I disagree with those who say that banning plastic bags won't be effective. I believe it will be effective -- at killing jobs. At my factory alone, 200 people will lose good-paying jobs almost immediately. This comes at a time when our state budget is running a $19-billion deficit and when our state economy has an unemployment rate higher than 12%. Obviously, this is not the time to be pursuing regulatory policies that will kill jobs and hurt our economy. Second, this ban will not only be bad for the economy, it will be bad for the environment. Studies demonstrate that plastic bags leave a lighter footprint on the earth than paper bags. Yet the proposed law would promote more paper bags and harm our ability to recycle. Ironically, stores and consumers shifted to plastic bags was because of environmental concerns about using paper bags. Now, in a complete reversal, we are on the verge of passing a law that will greatly increase the use of paper bags, thus destroying trees and increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, the leading cause of global warming. Is that smart environmental policy? The goal of the bill may be to reduce first-use bags, but the net effect is simply a replacement of plastic bags with paper bags. And that's bad news for anyone who cares about the environment. An Environmental Impact Report by Los Angeles County acknowledges that if plastic bags are banned, 85% of consumers would switch to paper bags instead of reusable bags. We have seen this to be true in places where plastic bags have been eliminated, including San Francisco, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. And what would this switch to paper bags mean for global warming? According to the figures in the report, 85% of Californians switching to paper bags would be the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions of between 250,000 and 550,000 more cars on the road every year. That's because life-cycle analysis calculates that paper bags result in more than three times the greenhouse emissions as plastic bags.Grande writes that he opposes the excessive use of packaging, including plastic bags, and he urges readers to reuse or recycling bags, and not take more bags than they need at the store. "That's the right way to curb plastic bag use. The wrong way is with a piece of legislation that ignores the facts and stirs fears. Any solution to this issue must be grounded in reality and deal with the fact that a ban on plastic bags will lead to job losses and more paper bags that will negatively affect the environment. "Let's not ban the bag; let's bag the ban." Grande's column is a response to the LA Times' own editorial on the topic, published June 24, which supported a state ban on plastic grocery bags. "Banning plastic grocery bags" made the case that plastic bags "are a nuisance to the land, sea and animals. The state Senate should stand up to the bag industry and ban them by passing AB 1998." The state Senate's Environmental Quality Committee took a step toward that goal yesterday, when it approved the Assembly bill. Next up: the Senate Appropriations committee, then the full Senate.