The California Against Waste list of 139 cities and counties covered by a plastic bag ordinance shrunk by one Tuesday night when the Huntington Beach City Council voted 6-1 to repeal theirs.
“It’s not an environmental issue,” Councilman Mike Posey said at the meeting. The vote was a procedural second step, coming one month after the council signaled its intention. Afterward, Posey told the conservative website Breitbart, “It’s a freedom issue. . . . Litter from plastic bags is caused by misuse and not use, and I object to punishing everyone because some people choose to litter.”
Posey is talking about the estimated 10 billion plastic bags that California dumps in the environmental every year. They present a toxic threat to habitats and species, from birds to plankton. The city staff projected that the number of plastic bags in use locally each year could increase from about 5.1 million to 104 million after repeal.
An analysis by Senate staff members of the plastic bag legislation, Senate Bill 270, noted, “Although plastic represents a relatively small fraction of the overall waste stream in California, plastic waste is the predominate form of marine debris. Plastics are estimated to comprise 60% to 80% of all marine debris and 90% of all floating debris.” The non-biodegradable materials are ingested by sea creatures, which is bad for them and all the rest of the food chain, including us.
KPCC said the Huntington Beach repeal was the first in the state, and Breitbart said it was the first in the nation.
In the meantime, California’s law is unenforceable and the plastic bag industry is marshalling its forces. It is worth the effort to them. It cost around $3 million to get the necessary signatures for the referendum and will cost millions more promoting repeal over the next 18 months. But the industry will make around $10 million on sales of $150 million worth of plastic bags in that time, with the prospect of continued profits in the future.
An unscientific poll in PlasticsNews last month drew 100 responses and only 27% liked the new state law. A more scientific poll taken last June by USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times showed that 59% of California voters were against a measure to repeal the ban. Forty-nine percent said they felt strongly about that and only 34% said they would vote for it.
That looks like an impressive show of strength by environmentalists, but as past initiative campaigns have shown, free-spending business interests can flip even the most lopsided early polling. In June 2014, 69% of the people in a Field Poll favored letting California’s Insurance commissioner clamp down on excessive health insurance rate increases. After outspending supporters 50-1, the industry’s persuasiveness was rewarded with a 59% vote against the ballot initiative in November.
Huntington Beach passed a reusable bag ordinance prohibiting their use in all grocery, drug and convenience stores, starting November 1, 2013. The law imposed a 10-cent charge for the issuance of recyclable paper bags and encouraged stores to promote the use of recyclable bags.
Opponents of the ordinance argued that its real prime mover was a money grab by store owners, who would receive a portion of the 10-cent bag money for executing the program.