The June 29 Blowback by Peter Grande of Command Packaging, a manufacturer of plastic bags, offered an articulate critique of the state's proposed ban on single-use plastic bags at certain stores. Unfortunately, the information he outlined did not provide a full examination of the facts.
Earthwise Bag Co., headquartered in Los Angeles County, is one of the leading suppliers of reusable bags to major grocers and retailers throughout the United States. As a California employer, one of several reusable bag makers in the state and environmentally conscious residents of this state, we feel compelled to respond.
Grande begins his analysis by claiming that the passage of AB 1998 to ban plastic bags would cost 200 jobs and be a financial drain on California's already struggling budget. He also asserts that he will be forced to lay off most of his workforce if this bill passes. However, as he admits, "We make all sorts of plastic bags." Command Packaging makes bags for restaurants, clothing retailers, boutiques and more. Its product line includes merchandising bags, t-shirt bags and foldovers, among others, and he markets and sells to bakeries, delis and beauty supply, shoe, toy, clothing, book and sporting goods stores. He even provides bags for cards and gifts, as well as office supplies.
Though a percentage of his business is with single-use plastic bags for grocery stores, there is a substantial portion of his production that will not be affected by this bill. In fact, Command Packaging already produces the truereUSAble™ bag, whose marketing material states that it can be reused 200 times — 100 more than the bill demands. In addition, should it prove necessary, his manufacturing facility could be retooled to produce reusable bags that are in line with the specifications of the bill.
Unfortunately, Grande also neglects to examine the importance of California's green economy in his analysis, and in particular does not mention the potential for thousands of new jobs within the reusable bag sector. According to a January 2009 article in The Times, the green sector has provided California with 1.5 million jobs in the last three decades alone. The passage of AB 1998 would provide sustainable jobs throughout the state in the form of direct-hire positions, as well as a multitude of subsidiary industries.
According to the California Employment Development Department, in the categories of transportation and the housing of freight alone, there are 10,797 employers in the state. These numbers don't begin to touch on the economic growth potential for the state in job growth for sales, logistical support, design, administration, management, supplies, etc. They also do not take into consideration the detrimental economic impact that reduced tourism rates would have if our 1,100 miles of coastal beach communities continue to be polluted. According to a report commissioned by the California Resources Agency in 2005, California's ocean economy is valued at $43 billion.
Further, Grande claims that people will switch to paper rather than reusable bags and the 85% switch would equate to the greenhouse equivalent of adding 250,000 to 550,000 cars to the road. First, let me point out that paper bag manufacturers do not seem to agree with Grande's assertion, as they are opposing AB 1998. If they believed this bill would benefit their industry, they would certainly be supporting it.
As to the environmental impact, even if people refused to purchase reusable bags and instead switched to paper (which we highly doubt because reusable bags are already widely used), what would the real environmental impact be? According to the same environmental impact report by Los Angeles County that Grande refers to in his article, "indirect air quality impacts due to a potential increase in the demand for paper carryout bag manufacturing would be expected to be below the level of significance." The report concludes that reusable bags would be the best option for air quality in California. And even if it is equivalent to 250,000 cars, that amounts to only one-third of 1% of the total emissions for the state of California. Is this really the impact we should be focusing on?
The significant impact of plastic bags on the environment has gained worldwide attention. These single-use bags are banned in Vancouver, Manitoba, Rwanda, France, Tanzania and Bangladesh. There are dozens of other countries and at least 29 U.S. states with legislation addressing this problem. Three years ago, San Francisco banned single-use plastic bags, and the result has been a 50% decrease in plastic bag litter on the streets. A report by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection concluded in February that the environmental impact of plastic bags was severe and urged the legislature to "discourage the use of single-use paper and plastic retail bags."