The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

June 3, 2010
Plastic bags: The truth, the whole truth...

Who knew that a little shopping bag could generate such controversy, along with contradictory data?

But it does and it has -- and California could well be the next ground zero in the plastic and paper bag wars.

The Golden State may become the first in the nation to ban stores from dispensing free "single-use" bags with their purchases, according to a bill passed by the Assembly Wednesday. Shoppers who forget to bring their reusable totes would have to pay for a recycled paper bag, or purchase another reusable tote.

The bill's author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, managed to win support from businesses -- but not from the plastics industry, which believes the measure could cost California numerous manufacturing jobs.

In making her case, Brownley argued that California taxpayers spend some $25 million annually to collect and bury the 19 billion bags used every year. And, she said, marine debris -- most of it plastic -- has injured or killed at least 267 species worldwide.

As the bill heads for a Senate vote, the industry is fighting back. Hilex Poly, a South Carolina-based company that bills itself as a leading manufacturer of plastic bag and film products, has created a Web site taking aim at the media and the "myths about plastic bags."

HA_marine_debris.JPGTitled "The Truth about Plastic Bags," the Web site purports to set the record straight about its product. It says plastic bags "account for only about 8 percent of ocean litter." And, the company states, discarded fishing line -- not plastic bags -- is "the single most dangerous debris item" for ocean wildlife.

The company, which tracks anti-plastic bag legislation nationally, complains that the "media is littered with false facts about plastic bags."

A spokeswoman for Brownley said the assemblywoman is confident of her data, which is attributed on a fact sheet to such entities as the California Integrated Waste Management Board and scientific research. "We're pretty careful about what data we use," said her spokeswoman. "If there's anything we feel iffy about, we don't go with it."

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