Tag Archives: plastic bags

Walker signs bill banning bans on plastic bags

“Paper or plastic?” isn’t going away anytime soon in Wisconsin. Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation March 30 protecting plastic bags from community bans. AB 730 prohibits local governments from regulating the commercial use of plastic bags or other “auxiliary containers” such a cups, bottles or other packaging.

The measure also prohibits local governments from enacting measures that attach a fee or surcharge on plastic bags.

There are no communities in Wisconsin with such bans; Eau Claire in 2013 considered a measure intended to reduce the use of plastic bags.

However, more than 100 communities in other states have enacted restrictions on single-use plastic bags, considered a major source of global pollution. In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to adopt a ban.

Additionally, Hawaii adopted statewide restrictions in 2012 and California lawmakers passed restrictions in 2014, which are on hold pending the outcome of a ballot initiative in November.

The goal with the restrictions is to decrease trash and litter, as well as reduce the use of the natural resources required to manufacture the bags, which generally are made from fossil fuels.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year and bags used for an average of 12 minutes before they get discarded.

About 2.2 billion pounds of fossil fuel and 3.9 billion gallons of fresh water are needed to produce the 100 billion plastic bags annually used in the United States, according to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a group based in New York that’s been a leader on the ecology side of the issue. The manufacturing process creates about a billion pounds of solid waste each year and produces 2.7 million tons of CO2.

At Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group that conducts regular cleanups of waterways, activists emphasize that the bags and other petroleum-based plastics never really break down — thus, about every square mile of ocean is polluted with about 46,000 pieces plastic.

The plastic pollution contributes to flooding and threatens wildlife, as animals ingest or become entangled in the materials.

Despite the environmental concerns with plastic bags, protecting their use and challenging bans is big business.

A force behind the “preemption” bills such as the one signed by Walker is the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC, the national organization of legislators and businesses that promotes corporate interests and conservative policies.

Also, an offshoot of ALEC, the American City County Exchange, adopted a resolution encouraging local elected officials to not regulate single-use containers and packaging, “such as reusable bags, disposable bags, boxes, cups, and bottles that are made of cloth, paper, plastic, extruded polystyrene, or similar materials.”

ALEC’s campaign against plastic bag bans is backed by plastic manufacturers and a trade group, the National Federation of Independent Business, which has had funding from the Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners and Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS, according to the Center for Media and Democracy.

Florida banned plastic bag bans in 2008. Missouri and Arizona passed bag bans last year, but Arizona’s legislation faces a legal challenge.

In Wisconsin, these entities lobbied for the ban on bans: Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers, American Chemistry Council, American Progressive Bag Alliance, Koch Companies Public Sector, Kwik Trip, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Midwest Food Processors Association, Wisconsin Beverage Association, National Federation of Independent Business, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Grocers Association , Wisconsin Independent Businesses Inc., Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Paper Council, Wisconsin Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Associates and Wisconsin Restaurant Association.

These groups that opposed the legislation: Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Dane County Cities and Villages Association, Clean Wisconsin, Dane County, the City of Milwaukee and the City of Madison.


Bag restrictions

More than 100 municipalities have enacted restrictions aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of single-use plastic bags. Hawaii and California have statewide restrictions, but California’s law is on hold.

Alaska: 2 municipalities

California: 88 municipalities

Colorado: 5 municipalities

Connecticut: 1 municipality

District of Columbia: 1 municipality

Hawaii: Statewide

Iowa: 1 municipality

Maine: 1 municipality

Maryland: 21 municipalities

Massachusetts: 8 municipalities

New Mexico: 1 municipality

New York: 5 municipalities

North Carolina: 9 municipalities

Oregon: 3 municipalities

Texas: 9 municipalities

Rhode Island: 1 municipality

Washington: 11 municipalities

Source: Surfrider Foundation

Did you know?

In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country to ban single-use plastic bags, which can exacerbate flooding.

Spring cleaning on the river

Milwaukee Riverkeeper is organizing clean up crews to remove litter and debris from 50 sites in the Milwaukee River basin. The annual Spring River Cleanup takes place April 23, the day after Earth Day.

Each year, thousands of volunteers remove tons of trash from the waterways in the Greater Milwaukee area. In 2015, about 3,500 volunteers hauled away 70,000 pounds of trash.

For more information or to register, go online to Milwaukee Riverkeeper at milwaukeeriverkeeper.org.

— L.N.

Portland, Maine, imposing nickel fee on grocery bags

Consumers in Portland, Maine, this week will begin paying a nickel fee for the disposable shopping bag they carry from a store.

Portland is the first community in the New England state to both impose a fee for disposable shopping bags and also to ban polystyrene foam food and beverage containers. The intent is to reduce litter and help the environment.

To date, more than 130 municipalities have imposed fees for disposable bags, ranging from a nickel to a quarter per bag.

The polystyrene bans are not as common. Freeport, Maine, also bans the foam containers and the state prohibits food service vendors from using polystyrene at state-owned facilities.

Polystyrene is a petroleum-based plastic. A 1986 EPA report on solid waste named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the fifth largest creator of hazardous waste and 57 chemical byproducts are released during the combustion of polystyrene foam. Toxic chemicals leach out of these products into the food that they contain — especially when heated in a microwave — that threaten human health.

Polystyrene foam dumped into the environment as litter can break up into pieces that choke animals and clog their digestive systems. Dumped into a landfill where trash is buried, polystyrene never degrades.

Plastic bag manufacturers push to overturn California ban

Plastic bag manufacturers on Oct. 10 passed their first hurdle in their effort to delay and eventually repeal California’s new ban on single-use plastic shopping bags before it takes effect.

The office of Attorney General Kamala Harris cleared the way for the groups to begin collecting signatures for a referendum vote on the ban on the November 2016 ballot.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the first statewide ban on plastic bags, citing a “torrent” of plastic pollution in parks and waterways. It followed one of the fiercest legislative battles of the year, pitting bag makers against environmentalists.

If opponents of the law submit more than 500,000 signatures by January, the ban would not take effect until voters weigh in.

A national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers says voters will be on their side when they learn the law, SB270, authorizes a 10-cent fee for paper bags that are now often provided for free.

“If this law were allowed to go into effect it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment, and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets,” Lee Califf, executive director of the American Plastic Bag Alliance, said in a news release.

Under the statewide ban, large grocery stores must stop carrying single-use bags by July 2015. Pharmacies, liquor stores and convenience stores must comply the next year.

Manufacturers’ fight against the legislation comes as plastic bag bans have been gaining momentum across the country, including in the cities of Chicago, Seattle and Austin. In California, more than 100 cities and counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, already ban plastic shopping bags at checkout counters.

An environmental group that supports the ban has vowed to fight the referendum.

“We are confident that Californians will repeat history by rejecting an effort by an out-of-state, special interest polluter funded misinformation campaign to overturn a popular law,” Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, said in a news release.

Records show the American Plastic Bag Alliance has spent at least $140,000 lobbying the California Legislature and the governor’s office in the first six months of the year.

California is 1st state to ban plastic bags

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at grocery and convenience stores, driven to action by pollution in streets and waterways.

A national coalition of plastic bag manufacturers immediately said it would seek a voter referendum to repeal the law, which is scheduled to take effect in July 2015.

Under SB270, plastic bags will be phased out of checkout counters at large grocery stores and supermarkets such as Wal-Mart and Target starting next summer, and convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. The law does not apply to bags used for fruits, vegetables or meats, or to shopping bags used at other retailers. It allows grocers to charge a fee of at least 10 cents for using paper bags.

State Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, credits the momentum for statewide legislation to the more than 100 cities and counties, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, that already have such bans.

The law marks a major milestone for environmental activists who have successfully pushed plastic bag bans in cities across the U.S., including Chicago, Austin and Seattle. Hawaii is also on track to have a de-facto statewide ban, with all counties approving prohibitions.

“This bill is a step in the right direction – it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” Brown said in a signing statement. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”

Plastic bag manufacturers have aggressively pushed back through their trade group, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which aired commercials in California blasting the ban as a cash-giveaway to grocers that would lead to a loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs.

“If this law were allowed to go into effect, it would jeopardize thousands of California manufacturing jobs, hurt the environment and fleece consumers for billions so grocery store shareholders and their union partners can line their pockets,” Lee Califf, executive director of the manufacturer trade group, said in a statement.

Padilla, the bill’s author, said Californians would reject a referendum effort and quickly adapt their behavior to help the environment.

“For those folks concerned about the 10 cent fee that may be charged for paper, the simple elegant solution is to bring a reusable bag to the store,” Padilla said.

Shoppers leaving a Ralphs supermarket Tuesday in downtown San Diego were divided as they weighed the legislation’s environmental benefits against its costs. San Diego does not ban plastic bags.

“With the amount of waste that we produce, we can try to help out by slightly inconveniencing ourselves,” said Megan Schenfeld, 29, whose arms were full of groceries in plastic bags after leaving reusable bags at home.

Robert Troxell, a 69-year-old former newspaper editor, said the fees are more than an inconvenience for retirees living on fixed incomes like him. He shops daily because he has only a small refrigerator in his hotel for low-income seniors.

“It becomes a flat tax on senior citizens,” said Troxell, who lives off social security and other government assistance. “I have not disagreed with Jerry Brown on anything – until this.”

The American Forest and Paper Association, a trade group representing paper bag makers, says the bill unfairly penalizes consumers who use their commonly recycled products, while holding reusable plastic bags to a lower standard for recyclable content.

Responding to the concerns about job losses, the bill includes $2 million in loans for plastic bag manufacturers to shift their operations to make reusable bags. That provision won the support of Los Angeles Democratic Sens. Kevin De Leon and Ricardo Lara, who had blocked earlier versions of the legislation.

Lawmakers of both parties who opposed SB270 said it would penalize lower-income residents by charging them for bags they once received for free. The bill was amended to waive fees for customers who are on public assistance and limit how grocers can spend the proceeds from the fees.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico also have pending legislation that would ban single-use bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Austin pushes Bring Your Own Bag policy

Austin, Texas, on March 1 started its ban on certain thin paper and plastic bags amid environmental concerns.

The Austin City Council approved the ordinance about a year ago, with city officials encouraging consumers to bring reusable bags to do their shopping.

Retailers, meanwhile, will be allowed to offer thicker plastic and paper bags with handles, which Austin officials consider reusable. Retailers will decide whether to charge for those bags.

Ban exemptions include dry-cleaning bags, newspaper delivery bags, some types of takeout food bags and bags used for fish, meat, poultry, produce, bulk goods and pharmaceuticals.

Businesses that do not comply could face a Class C misdemeanor punishable by daily fines of up to $2,000.

Some facts about thin, plastic bags from the Clean Air Council:

The Ocean Conservancy says plastic bags are the second-most common kind of waste found, at 1 out of 10 items picked up and tallied in an International Coastal Cleanup.

• Plastic bags do not biodegrade. Light breaks them down into smaller and smaller particles that contaminate the soil and water and are expensive and difficult to remove.

• Less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. Recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4,000. The ton of recycled product can be sold for $32.

• When the particles from plastic bags get into the water, they are ingested by filter feeding marine animals. Biotoxins such as PCBs that are in the particles are then passed up the food chain, including up to humans.

• The city of San Francisco determined that it costs 17 cents for them to handle each discarded bag.