Four more communities, three of them in California, have banned single-use plastic carryout bags, bringing the number of communities with plastics-related bans in the United States to 74 — almost two-thirds of them in California.
And looming ominously on the horizon is a proposal to ban both plastic and paper carryout bags in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city, with a population of nearly 4 million.
There also is a proposal in Illinois, SB 3422, that has the plastic bag industry divided, as it would prohibit plastic bag bans in all cities in the state except Chicago, but which also carries several requirements that some view as a form of extended producer responsibility and that others think would make it difficult for small manufacturers to sell plastic bags in Illinois.
The Illinois proposal also has drawn the opposition of six California-based environmental groups, including Californians Against Waste, which usually just focuses on California issues and legislation.
That proposal, which has passed the Senate and is currently in the House Environmental Health Committee, would require manufacturers to support — either individually or collectively — the collection and recycling of plastic bags, provide annual reports on the amount of plastic bags and plastic film recycled, and require them to strive for a goal of 30 percent recycled content for plastic bags by 2015.
“We've basically had a takeback and recycling policy in California for more than five years, and it's just not working,” said Mark Murray, executive director of both CAW and the Campaign for Recycling, which opposes the bill along with the Bag It Town Program, the Surfrider Foundation, the Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research and Education, and the Seventh Generation Advisors, a group focused on sustaining the earth for seven generations beyond then.
As the debate continues in Illinois, the number of plastic bag bans continues to grow. Two cities in California — Watsonville and Solana Beach — enacted plastic bag bans the week of May 7, joining Ukiah, Calif., which passed a bag ban the first week of May and the island of O'ahu in Hawaii, which enacted a ban the last week of April.
O'ahu was the last of Hawaii's four major islands to enact a plastic bag ban. Ukiah is the first city in Mendocino County to adopt a plastic bag ban, and Solana Beach is the first city in San Diego County with a plastic bag ban. There has been a ban on plastic bags in the unincorporated areas of Santa Cruz County, but Watsonvillle is the first Santa Cruz County city to enact a ban.
The Watsonville ban, which will go into effect in December, also places a 10-cent fee on paper bags that escalates to 25 cents after one year. There is an exemption in the law that will allow restaurants to use plastic bags for takeout, and for plastic bags used for produce, meat, and bulk goods.
The Ukiah ordinance initially bans plastic bags, starting in December, at retail stores that have gross annual sales of $3 million or more, and more than 10,000 square feet of retail space. It will apply to all retailer stores one year after that.
Retailers in Ukiah also will be required to charge at least 10 cents for paper bags. Farmers markets and restaurants are exempt from the ban, along with plastic bags used for produce, meat and other goods that must be protected from moisture, damage or contamination.
The ban in O'ahu will apply to restaurants, and convenience and grocery stores, and is scheduled to go into effect July 1, 2015.
The Solana Beach ban goes into effect Sept. 9 for grocery stores, food vendors, restaurants, pharmacies and city facilities, and for all retailers three months after that. It also requires retailers to charge no less than 10 cents for paper bags. The ban does not apply to bags used for produce, bulk items, meat and poultry, or for bags used for dry cleaning or laundry.
Although the just-enacted Solana Beach plastic bag ban includes restaurants, the city council instructed its lawyer to write an amendment that would exclude restaurants from the ban and present that amendment to the council for a vote later.
That decision to amend the bill after it was passed was prompted by three letters from the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, which has threatened to sue if there is no exemption for restaurants. Stephen Joseph, counsel for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, told Plastics News. “We'll wait to see what happens.”
Three of the 14 largest cities in the U.S. — San Jose, San Francisco and Austin—now have plastic bag bans, as well as Seattle and Portland, the 23rd and 29th largest cities, respectively. Two other U.S. communities have taxes on plastic bags.
The proposed Los Angeles plastic bag ban, which would come before that city council for a vote as early as May 23, is opposed by several Los Angeles-area plastic bag manufacturers, including Command Packaging, based in Vernon, Calif., and the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is a unit of the plastics industry association, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. of Washington.
Command Packaging has said that a ban could trigger layoffs of between 20 and 130 employees, while APBA has said a ban would impact 1,900 workers in the area. As currently written, the proposed Los Angeles plastic bag ban also would require stores to charge 10 cents for paper bags for the first six months that the law is in effect, and then place a ban on paper bags after that.
In Illinois, different groups have different views on the Plastic Bag and Film Recycle Act, which has the support of the APBA, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Manufacturers Association.
“We hope this legislation becomes a model bill for legislatures across the nation,” said APBA executive director David Asselin in a letter send to all Illinois state legislators May 1. “This legislation will bring more jobs in plastic bag recycling to the state [and] comes at no cost to consumers, small business or supermarkets.”
But a number of companies and groups, including the Illinois Policy Institute, Sustainable Springfield Inc. and CAW are opposed.
“I think SPI is sticking with the [American Chemistry Council] strategy of trying to create a model recycling policy as an alternative to bans,” said Murray of CAW.
CAW and five other associations have gone on record to oppose the bill.
“Local governments are taking action to phase out plastic bags. Plastic pollution is a global problem, but local solutions can make a difference,” said the issue alert from the six groups. “Washington, D.C.'s bag ordinance [with a fee on paper and plastic bags] immediately reduced monthly bag distribution from 22.5 million bags to just 3.3 million. SB 3442 would remove this local power.”
In addition, the groups said that “recycling of plastic bags, while seemingly well-intentioned, would accomplish nothing,” noting that “a similar 2006 California recycling policy has failed.”
“Despite the creation of a statewide collection infrastructure for plastic bags, just 3 percent of plastic bags have been recycled [in California],” said the six groups. “Plastic bag recycling is neither practical nor cost-effective. The market scrap price for recycled plastic comes nowhere close to covering the costs of collecting, transporting, and handling the bags.”
Opposing the bill for a different reason is Don Fisher, CEO of privately owned Fisher Container Corp. — a third-generation family-run manufacturer of flexible film bags and pouches Buffalo in Grove, Ill.
In a letter sent to Plastics News May 4, Fisher objected to “the burdensome damage” that he said the bill would have on Illinois printers and manufacturers of flexible packaging.
“Although it was written with positive intentions, this bill is, in our opinion, uninformed and its supporters are unaware of the burdensome damage it will bring to Illinois printers and manufacturers,” wrote Fisher.
Among other things, the bill would:
* Require manufacturers of bags and plastic wrap to register and pay a $500 annually to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
* Require manufacturers of plastic bags to print their company names on all bags.
* Require manufacturers to submit a report to the IEPA annually with a description of recycling and collection efforts, including weight in pounds of the bags, and plastic wrap, that is collected.
* Require manufacturers of plastic bags to create and maintain a plan for collecting and recycling plastic bags and to submit those plans to the Illinois EPA and have them undergo a public comment period. In addition, each plan must include a list of collection locations and a public education campaign.
In addition, Sustainable Springfield treasurer Harv Koplo has written a letter to the editor of the Springfield State Journal-Register, stating the group's opposition because the bill would “strip communities [except for Chicago] of their right to ban plastic bags or impose extra fees for their use.”