Thursday, August 20, 2009

Plastic bag industry spins and spends in Seattle

By Laura Reinhard, Policy Associate

Watch out for higher prices in your grocery bills — maybe plastic bags will end up costing stores even more as plastic bag industry lawyers and lobbyists fly around the country squashing local initiatives.

Seattle’s groundbreaking proposal to place a 20-cent fee on all single-use bags was defeated Tuesday in a David v. Goliath PR battle. The plastic bag industry shelled out the first round of cash to get signatures to put the ordinance, previously approved by city council, on the ballot. A syndicated AP article reports the bag industry spent $1.4 million to defeat the proposal. Unfortunately, the bag industry is much better prepared to take on these fights than it was just a few years ago, when few cities were considering bag ban or fee ordinances. When plastic bag industry representatives sued Fairfax, CA for passing a plastic bag ban ordinance, Fairfax took it to the voters themselves and passed the measure with 79% of the vote.

But Fairfax is a small city and times have changed. Now, the list of cities considering bag ban or fee ordinances is long and the plastic bag industry, recognizing the threat, is out in force.

That doesn’t mean that cities have to capitulate to industry pressure. This year Washington, D.C. passed a single-use bag fee, despite the bag industry paying for a presidential-election style spin campaign complete with automated calls to residents. And just this spring, Palo Alto, CA successfully passed a ban restricting large grocers from distributing single-use plastic bags, despite a lawsuit from plastic bag industry lawyers.

So what should reusable bag advocates take away from this experience? For one, cities trying to cut down on unnecessary plastic bag litter and help solve the problem of marine plastic should expect well-funded lobbyists flying in from corporate HQ. Communities must be prepared to overcome this by speaking up loudly for policies that restrict the distribution of free plastic bags. San Jose, CA is considering enacting a strong policy to prevent free plastic bag distribution. We urge residents of San Jose and San Jose elected officials to take this opportunity to stand up for a clean community and a healthy San Francisco Bay.

Just like Big Tobacco, the plastic bag industry will have to fight these battles until they find a new line of work.

No comments: