Let's say you're on the city council of a coastal community where many residents are concerned about marine debris. Some of your constituents want to ban single-use plastic bags.
But if you pass a ban without first doing an expensive study on the environmental impact of the decision, you'll face a lawsuit — and the prospect of an expensive legal battle.
That's the dilemma communities in California face now, following the California Supreme Court's recent decision in the Manhattan Beach plastic bag lawsuit. Earlier this month, for example, Save the Plastic Bag Coalition said it will ask the First District California Court of Appeal to overturn a bag ban in unincorporated areas of Marin County.
Huntington Beach is taking a slightly different approach. The community says it will look at a plastic bag ban. But it wants environmental groups to pay for the expensive study. According to The Orange County Register, Huntington Beach City Council voted 4-3 last week to pay Rincon Consulting nearly $30,000 to prepare an environmental impact report.
The Surfrider Foundation has already given the city $3,000 for the study, and it plans to raise the rest of the money, plus funding to copy and disseminate the report. The newspaper quotes Surfrider member Bill Hickman: “Think of this as an investment, not a cost to the city. ... Recycling is not the answer for plastic bags. [Less than] 10 percent are recycled.”
For a few years now, the Surfriders group has been a serious player in debates about plastics bags and litter, especially in California.
The decision to pay for Huntington Beach's environmental impact report will be an interesting test of how much support the group has, and whether its clout can spread to other communities.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of “The Plastics Blog.”