After my post yesterday about the bag ban debate in California, Plastics News staff reporter Mike Verespej pointed out another column on the topic worth sharing with blog readers. Kevin Kelly, president of the California Film Extruders and Converters Association, wrote an opinion piece for the San Jose Mercury News headlined "Banning plastic bags will kill California jobs, won't help the environment." It's a strong column, which you'd expect from Kelly, a former BusinessWeek reporter, and now CEO of Emerald Packaging Inc., a family-owned firm in Union City, Calif., that makes printed plastic produce bags. Kelly says the immediate impact of a bag ban would be the loss of jobs:
Today, plastic bag manufacturing employs thousands of Californians, including the 175 workers at my factory in Union City. These good-paying manufacturing jobs -- many of my workers make more than $20 an hour with health and dental benefits -- are at risk if this bill becomes law. Several thousand more of our residents working for suppliers to the industry could also be on the way to unemployment, and their families to public assistance. Not to worry, says Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Woodland Hills. She insists that there won't be job losses because companies that produce plastic bags will "retool" to make reusable bags. What a joke. The type of reusable bag that Brownley wants can be competitively made only in China because of labor cost. Today, China and other low-wage Asian countries make virtually 100 percent of the reusable bags in the United States. If Brownley has a secret business plan for allowing domestic companies to compete with low-wage Chinese firms that face almost no regulation and are underwritten by the government, she should detail it. Until then, simply flipping the switch to produce reusable bags is not a realistic option. The truth is Brownley has made her peace with sacrificing jobs during the worst labor market since the Great Depression in exchange for a supposed environmental benefit. The tragedy is that benefit won't materialize.Kelly makes some good, common-sense points about why banning T-shirt bags would not result in the reduction in bag use -- despite what proponents of the ban are predicting. Kelly asserts that, for hygenic reasons, meat, fish and produce would need to be wrapped separately in plastic bags. On top of that, reusable bags must be washed periodically, requiring water, energy and polluting soaps. In addition, consumers who currently use "single-use" bags to line their garbage cans and to pick up pet waste would have to start buying those bags, he says. Check the link for more of Kelly's thoughts on the issue.