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California Cities Drawing Line in the Sand in Plastic Bag War


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It seems California coastal communities have drawn a line in the sand in the battle against plastic bags. A number of seaside towns have banned them or are in some process of doing so.

San Francisco, the ‘city by the Bay’ in Tony Bennett's song, may have initiated the fight, spearheaded the frontal attack. In March, 2007, that city's Board of Supervisors approved legislation to ban plastic bags in large scale super markets and pharmacy chain stores. They were the first city in the United States to do so and achieved notoriety here and abroad for their audacity. These stores, now that the legislation has taken effect, now must use compostable bags made of recyclable paper or corn starch. It is estimated that this action has reduced plastic bag use by 5 million per month in the first year.

Other seaside cities soon joined the crusade. Some have succeeded in the ban while others have had to rethink their proposals. The small town of Fairfax, California, in the Bay Area, found that out when they decided to ban plastic bags in local stores. According to an article in E Magazine in their July/August ‘08 issue, “Plastic Industry Strikes Back", the plastic bag makers threatened to sue whereupon the town retreated from immediately initiating the program. Other cities such as Oakland, Annapolis, and Philadelphia followed suit, intimidated by the threat, according to E Magazine's rendition.

The cities of Malibu and Manhattan Beach in the Southern California area have also enacted ordinances banning plastic bags. In Malibu, the city council unanimously adopted their ordinance in May, 2008, and it will apply to all retailers, large and small. Large sellers will have six months to comply and smaller ones a year. Violations will be an expensive option with fines of up to $1000.00, Ouch!

Manhattan Beach is having a bit of difficulty with their ordinance passed just this month, July. Apparently the plastic bag makers are not retreating quietly into the night. A group of about eight plastics retailers and manufacturers are threatening to sue as they have done earlier in such instances. The city council members are undaunted and plan to fight the lawsuit confident they will win in the end.

The basis for the legal stance by the plastics manufacturers is that substituting paper is far more environmentally harmful than plastic bags. In that they are probably somewhat correct. Research shows that making paper bags as substitutes for plastic is even more wasteful of energy resources and emits more greenhouse gases making that choice one of prime consideration. However, are the manufacturers considering the overall polluting aspects of plastic in their arguments? No, apparently not - just the manufacturing aspects. And, to argue that plastic is somewhat less environmentally costly than paper is rather a disingenuous approach to the problem wouldn't you say?

They must find a better way. American industry is always behind the power curve on such matters until forced to confront the problems they have caused. I am confident that with their ingenuity and innovativeness - if only predicated on the profit motive - they will do so.

In San Diego County, several cities are in some stage of enacting their own bans. Encinitas, a beachfront community and environmental activist haunt, has now begun their look-see at such a ban spurred on by a petition signed by 1500 people filed with the city council by the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. The Surfriders deliberately chose Encinitas because of expectations that with a core group of hardcore environmentalists residing there as well the upscale yuppie nature of its 63,000 inhabitants enough excitement and popular support will develop to throw the council behind the ban. So far two councilwomen have openly sided with the effort. It is not an automatic with three votes needed to pass. Although not supporting it as of yet, one councilman says it is probably inevitable for such ordinances to pass along the coastal areas of California at least.

Solana Beach, a so-called ‘progressive’ city - first in the nation to ban smoking on its beaches - enacted a law in December, 2007, prohibiting plastic bags with advertising to be used on doors and other places where they could cause littering problems. They must now, with their adjoining city on the way to passing an ordinance, be considering enlisting in the plastic wars.

Plastic bags are definitely a problem which must be addressed. The average American is using over 600 plastic bags annually, and only 5% or less are ever recycled. The rest go to our landfills, - or worse, are discarded as litter along our highways and byways, on our beaches, in our streams, waterways, and oceans. Plastic at sea kills!

There are alternatives to plastic bags popping up everywhere on the net. One successful attempt has been simply making a bag labeled “I am not a plastic bag!" which has become the rage with shoppers in New York. (How come I am not surprised at those New Yorkers?) I recently interviewed Mr. Frank Tinelli, aka ‘Go Green Bag Man', and wrote an enlightening article on his own battle with plastic bags. Frank has recently begun making a reusable canvas tote shopping bag with goals in mind to make a difference in the war. He formed a business, Go Green Aid Company, specializing in custom made, high quality shopping bags which appears to be doing well and is a supplier of ammo in the plastic wars. Wish him well. It's a start in his eyes; he considers himself a frontline soldier. His motto is ‘Go Green is More Than a Slogan; It's a Lifestyle!'

Plastic is a big problem - bigger than we may even expect or of which we are aware. We must now address this problem seriously. It isn't a simple one nor will it take extreme sacrifice to resolve. But we must begin now. California has drawn the line in its coastal sand and is leading the charge!

Major Dennis Copson is retired from The United States Marines and is a resident of Oceanside, CA where he is the Director of Sales and Marketing for Nature's Big Bud Worm Castings, Inc. He is also a freelance writer. More info is available on his website


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