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.
How much do consumers know about the environment?
Americans are becoming much more confident with their knowledge about the environment, according to a new survey commissioned by S.C. Johnson & Son Inc. That's despite the often confusing or even contradictory messages they receive on many environmental issues, from global warming to the benefits of paper vs. plastic bags.
According to the survey, 73 percent of Americans say they know a lot or a fair amount about environmental issues and problems, up 20 percentage points since 1995. Also, fewer people now agree with the statement, “I am very confused about what's good and what's bad for the environment.” Just 18 percent agreed with that statement in 2011, down a whopping 21 percentage points since 1990.
A growing number of respondents say they've made lifestyle changes that have a positive environmental impact. For example, 58 percent said they recycle on a regular basis — twice as many as 20 years ago — and 29 percent said they buy “green” products.