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March 4, 2014
Viewpoints: If management and labor can agree, plastic bag ban must be good

PLASTIC_BAG.JPG(March 4 - By Ronald K. Fong and Jim Araby, Special to The Bee)

Statewide law is long overdue to curtail damage to environment and shift culture.

Management and labor groups do not fall on the same side of issues very often. Whether it's at City Hall or the state Capitol, some of the most contentious debates in California have pitted employers against labor organizations.

So when employee unions and employers can come together on a meaningful and paramount policy issue such as single-use bag regulation, lawmakers and Californians alike should take notice.

Sens. Alex Padilla, Kevin de León and Ricardo Lara have crafted Senate Bill 270, a thoughtful solution that is good for California-based business, workers and the environment.

SB 270 would encourage shoppers across California to use reusable bags by following the lead of Los Angeles and banning single-use, plastic carryout bags at checkout stands and requiring a 10-cent charge for recycled paper bags and compostible bags.

SB 270 addresses concerns raised about earlier proposals by protecting and creating home-grown jobs. The bill identifies $2 million for loans and grants to help California-based companies create jobs and spur economic growth by producing new, innovative products.

This bill is designed to achieve a host of important goals, including leading the nation in a shift to a culture of reusable bags, while fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and quality local jobs. SB 270 also achieves the pivotal goal of helping local jurisdictions and California businesses cut through the confusing patchwork of rules on the books and to put in place a cohesive, statewide system for regulation and compliance.

On Jan. 1, Los Angeles joined more than 100 California cities and counties in phasing out the use of those flimsy, one-time-use bags that clog our sewers and recycling plants, litter our neighborhoods and pollute our prized coastlines.

It's time to stop rehashing stale and unrealized claims about bag bans and find forward-thinking solutions for our economy and environment. We have the chance right now to improve our quality of life, our environment and our health in California while being progressive in transitioning to a cleaner economy. We can create a market for innovation and adopt consistent rules to protect cities, counties, workers, businesses and, ultimately, consumers.

Decisive, statewide action is far overdue. There is no reason that lawmakers cannot pass a statewide single-use plastic bag ban in California this year.

Each time we have gone through this debate, opponents representing plastic bag manufacturers - many of which operate largely outside our state borders rather than supplying jobs for Californians - complain that jobs will be lost. The facts say otherwise. But rather than challenge those who make plastic bags to come up with more dubious claims of lost jobs, we must challenge them to concentrate their efforts on becoming part of building a new, clean economy that has seen growth even in the recent bleak years of recession. Many California companies already are training employees and building facilities to manufacture reusable grocery bags.

Yet it is out-of-state corporations that don't have California's best interests at heart who truly are behind opposing single-use bag bans. They know that the nation goes as California goes, and shudder at the potential impact on their profits as other states follow.

Nearly every municipality in California and nationwide that has adopted plastic bag bans also has enacted a charge on paper bags - encouraging consumers to use reusable bags. Labor, government, environmental and business leaders have carefully crafted this proven formula over the years. We know it works. Grocery retailers that have implemented similar ordinances, such as in San Jose and Los Angeles County, have also shown a dramatic reduction in paper bag consumption - as much as 90 percent.

Each year in California, more than 14 billion single-use plastic bags are handed out by retailers, but only 5 percent of those bags are recycled, according to CalRecycle. Californians pay an estimated $25 million annually to collect and bury plastic bag waste. These bags also cause litter, slow sorting and jam machinery at recycling centers and pose a grave risk to sea animals and other wildlife.

Simply put, single-use plastic bags are the problem. Moving our economy and society toward reusable bags is the solution. During a transition, a charge on paper bags can allow consumers an additional choice for convenience that is better than plastic.

It is time to put California jobs first. We must not let a few stubborn, out-of-state companies stymie California's role as a pioneer in innovation and new market growth. Sens. Padilla, de León and Lara want to put California's economy, workers and environment first, and we applaud their efforts to usher in a more sustainable economy for our state. Let's not squander this opportunity.

Ronald K. Fong is president and CEO of the California Grocers Association. Jim Araby is executive director of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Western States Council.