Hoping to persuade Oregon voters to persuade legislators not to ban plastic checkout bags, bag maker Hilex Poly Co. LLC has created a Bag the Ban Oregon website, and is taking out full-page ads in the Salem Statesman Journal.
The key message displayed online at BagTheBanOregon.com: Salem legislators have more important things to do than ban plastic shopping bags and raise taxes on Oregon shoppers.
If the bill is passed, Oregon would be the first state to ban single-use plastic bags.
Hilex does not manufacture plastic bags there, but company officials are concerned the ban could set a precedent leading to bans in other states.
A similar initiative in Oregon last year failed because of opposition from the Northwest Grocery Association. But that group supports the current proposal because it would require all retail stores to charge at least 5 cents for paper bags, and would prohibit cities from creating their own regulations.
More than 2,000 people in Oregon are employed in paper bag manufacturing.
According to Hartsville, S.C.-based Hilex, the U.S. plastic bag industry employs more than 10,000 people; Hilex itself employs 1,250.
Currently, 19 U.S. communities have bans on plastic bags, and Washington, D.C., has a 5-cent tax on single-use plastic and paper bags handed out to shoppers.
The Oregon initiative, SB 536, currently is before the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee. The bill has embroiled Hilex in a battle with state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, who claims Hilex Poly offered to build a plastics recycling plant in the state if the Legislature passed a law to prevent local communities from banning plastic bags.
A Hilex spokesperson told the Portland Oregonian that the company did not make that offer. Mark Daniels, vice president of sustainability and environmental policy for Hilex, did not return a phone call from Plastics News.
Hilex is deeply committed to the environment, but Hilex doesn't agree with the bag-banning bill as it stands today, the company says on its Bag the Ban Oregon website. Increasing plastic bag recycling in the state is a better alternative, it says.
In a video on its website and YouTube, Daniels pointed out that recycled plastic bags and film wraps such as bags for garments, newspapers and bread, and wrap over toilet tissue are made into products such as composite lumber, sewer piping, flower pots, trash bags and new plastic bags.
Hilex Poly has 30,000 recycling bins in place across the U.S. as part of its Bag-2-Bag recycling program, and has said it expects to recycle 25 million pounds of plastic films and shopping bags this year at its recycling plant in North Vernon, Ind. That's up from the 20 million pounds of film and bags it recycled in 2010 and the 10 million it recycled in 2009.
The website also calls the proposed ban a policy that is not only a waste of time, but [one that] will actually hurt the environment and put our health at risk from reusable bags contaminated with toxic lead and harmful bacteria.
Doesn't our Legislature have more important issues to address? asked Hilex Poly on the website it created in late February to fight the ban.
In its ad in the Statesman Journal last month, Hilex Poly claimed that, as of December, Oregon had an unemployment rate of 10.6 percent, ranked No. 43 in the nation in education, second in hunger and first in homelessness, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
With Oregon's economy and budget in such bad shape, why are legislators focusing on plastic bags? the ad asked.
Hass said legislation is needed because plastic bags are a scourge on Oregon's environment.
Plastic bags are an increasing component of litter in Oregon. Today's problem rivals that of the one that prompted passage of the bottle bill in 1971, he wrote on his website.
Hass added that plastic bags are not easy to recycle, and in fact currently cause problems for materials recovery facilities.
Oregon recyclers have been slammed with exploding costs associated with plastic bags. The Association of Oregon Recyclers said 35 percent of operating expenses at material recovery facilities are directly due to plastic bags that jam sorting machines, he wrote.
His bill is opposed by the American Chemistry Council in Washington.
In a letter to the Statesman Journal, Tim Shestek, senior director of state affairs in California for the ACC, said the Oregon bill, though well-intentioned ... falls short both economically and environmentally.
Lost in all of this is the [focus on] solving the real problem: litter, wrote Shestek. You cannot tax and ban litter away. When San Francisco banned the use of plastic carryout bags a few years ago, there was no measurable decrease in litter by the city's own estimate.
He said more than 18,000 grocery and retail locations in the U.S. including Target, Wal-Mart and Lowe's have bag and wrap recycling bins at their stores.