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Plastic Bags Make Sense and Keep Cents in Consumer Pocketbooks

As the Culver City City Council meets tonight to discuss regulating single use plastic bags, Cathy Browne, general manager at Huntington Park-based Crown Poly, a plastic bag manufacturer, says regulation is not the way to go.

Tonight, the the kind of bags my company manufactures right here in Los Angeles, California.

In advance of the meeting, I wanted to let readers know exactly why misguided legislation restricting plastic grocery bags would be the wrong decision for the environment, for you and for the local economy.

  • Misguided legislation restricting plastic bags forces consumers to rely on less environmentally friendly options at the grocery checkout. According to a study conducted by the U.K.’s Environment Agency, reusable cotton totes “need more resources in their production and are therefore likely to produce greater environmental impacts if compared on a bag for bag basis.” In a side-by-side comparison the agency determined that a cotton bag must be reused approximately 131 times “to ensure that they have lower global warming potential” than a common plastic grocery bag used only once. Yet the average consumer uses their cotton bag only 52 times. On average, therefore, cotton bags simply never live up to their “green” potential before they ultimately end up in the landfill – not by a longshot. In side-by-side life-cycle analysis comparisons, experts agree that paper bags also fare poorly due to the “ecological destruction that happens in the extraction and production of paper fiber.” And unlike plastic bags, which are reused by nine out of 10 consumers for household purposes further offsetting their comparatively minimal environmental impacts, there’s no evidence that paper bags are reused for secondary applications, such as trash bin liners.
  • Plastic bag bans aren’t an effective tool for addressing litter problems. Despite popular misconceptions, plastic bags don’t make up a significant portion of litter in Culver City or elsewhere – according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency plastic bags make up less than 0.5 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. When the city of San Francisco banned plastic bags, it conducted pre- and post- ban litter audits finding that not only is “bag litter a small portion of total [litter]…” but the ban was completely ineffective in reducing the small amount of plastic bag litter that does exists.
  • Plastic bags are the safe and healthy choice. One of the more surprising unintended consequences of forcing consumers to use reusable shopping bags is the negative impact on consumer health. Most shoppers are completely unaware that, without proper cleaning, reusable shopping bags become excellent breeding grounds for microorganisms (including bacteria like E. coli, salmonella and fecal coliform) that can cause serious foodborne illness. According to researchers at the University of Arizona, most consumers’ reusable shopping bags contain coliform bacteria that can lead to cross-contamination – and 97 percent of consumers admit to never washing their reusable bags. Earlier this year the Oregon Public Health Department pinpointed a contaminated reusable bag as the source of a norovirus outbreak causing an entire youth soccer team to fall violently ill.
  • Banning plastic bags puts California jobs as risk. Nearly 2,000 people in California and more than 30,000 people nationwide are employed by the innovative plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry. Misguided legislation banning or taxing 100 percent American-made plastic bags puts those jobs at risk by forcing consumers to turn to alternatives that are commonly manufactured overseas and imported to the U.S.

A better solution than restricting consumer choice at the grocery store is to encourage plastic bag recycling. As an industry and through partnerships with retailers and consumers, we’ve achieved impressive gains in recycling rates of polyethylene bags, sacks and wraps over the last 10 years. Today, more than 90 percent of the U.S. population has nearby access to plastic bag recycling, either at the curbside or at their local grocery store.

I implore the Culver City Council to consider joining/working with industry to help educate consumers about how easy it is to recycle their plastic grocery bags (take a look at this map to find your nearest bin).

We do have a long way to go in both educating consumers that bags are recyclable and ensuring that there are end markets for the products made from recyclable bags – and this is a much better use of public resources than legislating and enforcing bag bans that limit consumer choice.

Considering that Culver City’s most recent budget included laying off 19 staff members and cutting police overtime and resources for city graffiti removal, why Culver City should entertain spending money on plastic bag ban enforcement is beyond me. I hope people consider these facts strongly and understand exactly why plastic bags make sense for Culver City and how it keeps cents in your pocketbook.

Sincerely,

Cathy Browne

General Manager, Crown Poly

Editor's note: Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity.

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doug osborne December 10, 2012 at 07:15 PM
You are just plain wrong about all this. -Plastic bags are made from petrochemical products. It is extremely dirty, destructive, and deadly to gather the raw materials and manufacture the product. Paper products have a host of problems, but their source is infinite, clean and renewable if done right. -If people could self-police, usually bringing reusables or re-used bags, you could argue that people do not need laws like this. People will not self-regulate. -reusable and re-used bags can be safe, used with common sense, We have no guarantees factory-fresh bags are any safer. -if you think your job might be going away because people are doing the right thing, maybe you're doing the wrong thing.
Tony Gaimari December 10, 2012 at 07:19 PM
While plastic bags may be recyclable, the only post grocery store use I have for them is picking up puppy poop in my back yard, which means they go into the trash bin and not recycling. Is there any way to make a bag with the same durability properties of plastic but of a more bio-degradable material?
Joe December 10, 2012 at 07:50 PM
I completely agree with Ms. Browne. I'd also like to add that in addition to toting your groceries home, plastic bags have many other uses. We use them to store art supplies, toys with many parts, but mainly we use them as trash can liners. If plastic bags are banned then we would just buy plastic trash can liners. I don't think a ban, paper bags (less trees) or reusable bags (I have at leas 20. How many resources were used to make?) is the answer. Manufacturers should be incourages to reformulate the material to make it biodegradable. My 2 cents

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