The Coast News Group

What’s behind the defense of plastic bags?

Can you believe there is a group of people fighting to prevent cities from banning plastic bags? I was in disbelief myself, until I perused their Web site at appears to be the handiwork of San Francisco-based attorney Stephen Joseph. As it turns out, Joseph currently provides legal counsel for plastic bag manufacturers, an industry he reports employs nearly 4,000 people. Joseph and his legal team wasted no time concocting a plethora of reasons why municipalities shouldn’t ban plastic bags. Perhaps most startling is the fact that the group touts the “major environment advantages of plastic over paper” and indignantly claims that “destroying an American manufacturing industry based on myths and misinformation is irresponsible, absurd, and tragic.”
Part of the problem, STPB points out, is that people are mindlessly switching to paper bags — which as we all know, is just as troublesome as sticking with plastic. The plastic bag folks are on to something here, and even came across an interesting case study at the Berkeley Bowl market in Berkeley, Calif. Apparently the Berkeley Bowl offers consumers the choice between paper, plastic and reusable totes. The paper and the plastic options are free of charge, while the reusable totes can be purchased for a monetary incentive in the future. This, according to STPB, retains the freedom of choice and “is the smart approach.”
Not a bad idea out of Berkeley, to be honest. But STPB expends so much time and energy creating a myriad of farfetched reasons why we should save plastic bags that it’s difficult to buy in to what they’re selling. It appears STPB is only fueling its own agenda, for the debate is not over paper vs. plastic. Rather, it’s based on eliminating the concept of single-use anything — plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic silverware, paper plates, etc.
STPB notes that “every manufactured product has a negative environmental impact of some sort,” and I couldn’t agree more. STPB simply feels plastic bags are being singled out and picked on, and as such, they deserve a second chance in the consumer market. Again, this is all for the sake of an agenda.
Eliminating plastic bags is a positive step in the right direction; a chance for Americans to redefine their convenient lifestyle choices. We don’t need hard scientific data to support the idea that plastic bags are a “no win” situation for the environment. I personally see plastic bags in the gutter, flapping aimlessly in trees, buried in the sand on the beach — everywhere, really.
As one might expect, Joseph and his legal team refute the idea all plastic bags wind up as litter, calling the issue “hugely exaggerated.” According to STPB, only a small fraction -— .001 percent, in fact — of plastic bags becomes litter. He offers no explanation as to what becomes of the remaining 99.999 percent. He seems to champion the idea of perfect-world scenarios in which plastic bags are repeatedly used or recycled. And hey, as Joseph points out, you can line your kitty litter box and pick up after your dog with plastic bags.
Like any good lawyer, Joseph is filing legal objections with numerous California cities considering a plastic bag ban. Our very own city of Encinitas flew under his radar when Joseph promised to “file an action for a writ of mandate in the Superior Court in the event that the city fails to comply with the strict requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act before passing an ordinance, including but not limited to preparation of an EIR.”
We have a ways to go on this issue. Even the reusable totes are not flawless (many are made with pesticide-intensive cotton). In the meantime, Joseph proudly chooses plastic over paper.