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OP-ED: Everyone loses under bag bans
January 03, 2013, 05:00 AM By Cathy Browne

Who wins from San Mateo County’s plastic bag ban? The truth is, no one. Nearly 2,000 California taxpayers with good manufacturing wages who rely on the state’s bag and recycling industry will be threatened by this misguided policy. Small and large businesses will face displeased customers and added costs. And the environment will also lose as consumers are forced to adopt less environmentally-friendly alternatives such as reusable bags, which actually take more of a toll on the environment than people realize, as well as paper; and we all already know the negative environmental impacts of paper bags.

As San Carlos considers adopting its own plastic bag ban early next year, the City Council needs to be clear with constituents on the real impacts of a ban — on jobs, on our economy and on our environment.

In these economic circumstances, the priorities most Californians — and most Americans — are really concerned about are ensuring that we get back on the right economic track and protect American jobs. The Californians relying on the plastic bag industry to pay their mortgages, plan for their children’s education and put food on the table cannot afford to be to put out of work due to a misguided policy. In an economic climate in which good-paying manufacturing jobs are scarce, should we jeopardize jobs?

Californians in the plastic bag industry are not the only ones who stand to lose. It is much more difficult for small businesses to find the space to store paper or reusable bags, and to purchase them. Small businesses, the backbone of our economy, are already at a disadvantage — this only makes them weaker when compared with larger retailers.

Finally, the environment also stands to lose from more bag bans. Paper bags, made from trees, require four times as much energy to produce. Plastic bags generate 80 percent less waste than paper bags and use much less water to produce. In addition, six times more crude oil is used to ship paper bags compared to the equivalent number of plastic bags (Interesting that paper bags use way more crude oil than plastic bags, which are made out of a natural gas derivative and not oil at all).

Reusable bags are even worse for the environment. Depending on what they’re made of, reusable bags can come from foreign oil or cotton, which require enormous quantities of resources to produce. The production process of reusable bags is so energy intensive that a single reusable bag needs to be used 131 times before its carbon footprint becomes equal to a single plastic bag. Finally, most reusable bags are not recyclable, so when it comes time to replace them, they end up in landfills.

Plastic bags on the other hand, are 100 percent recyclable, and can be recycled or reused after checkout. Recycled plastic bags and wraps are turned into new products like playground equipment, pipes and decking. Proper recycling supports green jobs, protects the environment and converts plastic bags into valuable materials for manufacturers.

We cannot let mistruths win the day and should decide policy based on science and facts. For instance, plastic bags make up less than 1 percent of the municipal solid waste stream; the greatest threat to marine life is derelict fishing lines; and when studying oceanic pollution, researchers have found that hard plastics are a culprit, as opposed to bags. A plastic bag ban is simply a feel good legislative maneuver that does not accomplish any of its stated goals.

As the San Carlos City Council discusses joining San Mateo County in banning plastic bags, the council needs to be upfront with its constituents about the impact of a ban. Let’s not allow misguided environmental intentions lead to wrong public policy. Any decision that will negatively impact hard-working employees, small business owners and the environment all at once needs to be made on the basis of information and data, not emotion. The San Carlos City Council will be putting California jobs, local small businesses and the environment at risk if they pass a ban on plastic bags.

Cathy Browne is the general manager of Crown Poly, a California-based plastic bag manufacturer employing 297 California taxpayers.

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