Follow the Money to Bag Bans
Unemployment, rising cost of living and a suffocating regulatory environment continue to plague California families. Amid the daily hardship that this state’s working class faces, Sen. Alex Padilla and his political allies are plotting a big grocer cash grab on a historic scale. Senate Bill 270, which will ban 100 percent recyclable plastic bags and impose fees on paper and thicker plastic bags, will hit California families where they can least afford it: their grocery bills. Feigning environmental conviction, Ron Fong of the California Grocers Association (CGA) and Jim Araby of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union recently announced their shared support for SB 270’s passage. Their actual motivations are much more cynical and sadly typical of Sacramento politics.
Throughout this debate, SB 270 supporters, including CGA and UFCW, have failed to mention that the big grocers in California stand to make billions over time by collecting fees on a formerly complimentary product. Every single penny of the fee will go to the grocers’ pockets, not to any environmental cause or government program. This represents an unprecedented and unacceptable transfer of wealth from hardworking California families directly to major corporations, represented by the powerful CGA lobbying machine. And it’s not hard to understand why this new scam would be supported by the big grocers’ union partners. One just needs to follow the money.
Messrs. Fong and Araby also dishonestly claim that SB 270 would grow California jobs, when the exact opposite is the case. Two thousand Californians work and thrive in the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry. Ignoring or dismissing their voice in this debate is not just a policy error — it is a moral failing.
Neither of these men work in the plastic bag industry, so they have no real insight into the effects that a statewide ban on the product we make would have on companies located in California. Crown Poly, for instance, employs more than 300 Angelenos, who are threatened by Senate Bill 270. It is just a matter of common sense that when the state in which you operate bans your product, your business will suffer catastrophically — killing both growth and jobs. Anyone in the plastics industry should be concerned — what plastic product will be banned next in the name of profit for someone else?
Like Sen. Padilla and political supporters of SB 270, Fong and Araby erroneously claim a $2 million grant or loan will create jobs and spur innovative products. Whether the $2 million grant or loan is buy-off for California companies that already make thicker bags, or whether the $2 million grant or loan money exists in the recycling fund and will be given out, it simply will not help existing bag manufacturers save jobs. And it certainly won’t create them.
The fact that plastic bags represent less than .05 percent of the American municipal waste stream, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, means that environmental concerns over their impact are overstated. That said, well-intentioned environmentalists deserve our respect, even when we disagree. Why environmentalists support replacing thin, highly reused plastic grocery bags with plastic bags that are five times thicker is a question, however. What should not be respected is the cynical profiteering that the CGA and UFCW’s support for SB 270 represents.
Ultimately, we can do the right thing for both the environment and California families by creating policy that takes a balanced approach to environmental regulation and economic impact. SB 270 is little more than Sen. Padilla looking for a political win and photo op during his heavily contested campaign for secretary of state. As representatives of the California workers in our industry, we are appalled by the level of political cynicism inherent in SB 270. We urge the Legislature to reject this deeply flawed bill and work with stakeholders to develop legislation that would provide some tangible benefit to California’s environment and the working class.