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California Propositions 65 and 67: Plastic Bag Bans

California Propositions 65 and 67: Plastic Bag Bans

by Hannah Rosenblatt

From the editor: Welcome to Part 3 of our 2016 election mini-series. If you missed our previous installments, check out Part 1: voter information and Part 2: California Prop 61: drug prices.
Why are we tackling the plastic bag bans today? For two main reasons: 1. we care deeply about the environment and the impact of single-use disposables, and 2. Props 67 and 65 have done a fantastic job of confusing the crap out of everyone. So a breakdown felt necessary. Here's Hannah to add some clarity to the confusion.

 

Propositions 67 and 65: Plastic Bag Bans

Both Propositions 67 and 65 deal with instituting a ban on single-use plastic bags at large grocers. On face, these propositions seem to support basic environmental/sustainability policy change, however they are also laced with tricky business deals and legislative technicalities.

Proposition 67 aims to uphold a Senate bill (SB 270) that would ban single-use plastic bags in stores. SB 270 initially passed and was signed into law in 2014. However, after a petition by an opposition group (the artfully named American Progressive Bag Alliance), it was forced onto the state ballot as a veto referendum. This gives the public an opportunity to override the senate’s initial decision and decide if the bill should actually be passed.

Specifically, Prop 67 outlines a state-wide phase out of plastic bags from grocery stores with a lot of other stuff added in to make the transition easier. These add-ins include two million dollars allocated to plastic bag manufacturers who change production to reusable bags, a 10 cent charge on paper/reusable bags with the revenue going back to the stores who provide those bags, and a delayed implementation plan for smaller stores with low revenue. The environmental impacts of reducing the use and disposal of plastic are pretty straightforward. However, there is less certainty about how these policies would affect the business side of the issue.

Enter Prop 65. This proposition is framed to one-up Prop 67 on environmentalism by stating that profits generated from reusable/paper bag charges, instead of going to stores, should be thrown into a separate fund, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Fund. But importantly, it may end up doing just the opposite of protecting and enhancing the environment.

Although Prop 65 seems like a simple, added bonus to make voters feel even better about their environmental support, this proposition was also created and sponsored by the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), the same party that actively opposed the original Senate bill banning plastic bags. The APBA is made up of several large plastic bag companies, and if you visit their website you can find a lot of arguments for why plastic bags are the best things ever invented and should basically be used as much as possible. The seemingly contradictory support for this proposition from plastic bag companies suggests that they have alternative motives. In actuality, passing Prop 65 could hinder the government’s ability to pass any legislation (including Prop 67) restricting plastic bag use.

 

The Arguments

YES to Prop 67

Supporters of Prop 67 believe that eliminating single-use plastic bags from stores statewide is an important measure for ensuring environmental stewardship. Cutting down on plastic waste through bag bans is not a new or rare policy, as even in California there are already 151 districts that have adopted some form of plastic-bag restrictions at the local level. This measure would simply make it more widespread to cut down on our plastic waste and litter even further. Supporters claim that this larger mandate would give stores the resources and foundations needed to transition towards reusable bags, which would be significantly more impactful than trying to get people to consistently recycle their plastic bags.

 

NO to Prop 67

Opponents of Prop 67 argue that the possible environmental impacts initiated by the proposition are not worth the extra cost it would place on consumers. They claim that stores shouldn’t force customers to pay for reusable/paper bags, which would make every trip to the grocery store slightly more costly than before. There are also concerns about if reusable/paper shopping bags are a sufficiently green alternative to plastic bags, as they have been found to have an environmental footprint of their own. All in all, the proposition could place an unnecessary financial burden on customers, without having a significant, long-term environmental impact.

 

Funding and Support

Funding for Prop 67 has not received as much attention as other propositions on this ballot, however the opposition campaign has still earned around six million dollars, whereas supporters have gained closer to two million.

  • Proponents of Prop 67 include several large grocery store chains (Ralphs, Albertsons, etc.) and a variety of environmental NGOs.
  • Opponents, aside from the APBA, include the American Forest & Paper Association, and (you guessed it) most prominent plastic bag producers.

Funding for Prop 65 has flown even farther under the radar, but the six million dollars donated by the APBA against Prop 67 is also being used to fund a pro-Prop 65 campaign. No contributions against Prop 65 were announced as of Monday, Oct 31.

  • Proponents of Prop 65 (obviously) include the APBA.
  • Opponents include the environmentalist group Surfrider Foundation.

 

How Prop 65 Weighs In

Prop 65 is technically considered to be “in conflict” with Prop 67, since it is advocating for a different policy for dealing with reusable bag profits. This conflict means that there has to be some set of contingency plans for if one or both measures pass.

Deciding what happens if both propositions pass seems simple - with the banning of single-use plastic bags in coherence with Prop 67, and allocating of reusable bag money to the reserved fund outlined in Prop 65. However, in three lines of text (Sec.6), Prop 65 states that if it and a “conflicting” proposition on the same ballot (e.g., Prop 67) are both passed, but Prop 65 receives a higher amount of votes, it is passed in its entirety and the conflicting proposition is automatically “null and void.” This could be interpreted to mean that although Prop 65 and 67 could coexist, the ratification of Prop 65 would lead to the annulment of Prop 67 (preliminary Senate analysis here), effectively stopping California from implementing a plastic bag ban. Although the Senate could possibly arrange a compromise between the two propositions depending on their interpretation of words like “null” and “conflict,” the idea of vetoing Prop 67 seems to be remarkably well aligned with the advocacy of APBA who already tried to defeat the initial Senate bill.

The truly concerning thing about Prop 65 is not its apparent opposition to environmental protection efforts, but rather the blatant masking of its true aims. Prop 65 describes in detail the possibilities of beach cleanups, better water management, littering prevention, and conservation efforts that could be made possible by passing this initiative. It seems to use the important debate and rhetoric surrounding environmental protection as a thick facade while actually being concerned with the prosperity of the plastic bag industry. Using supposed environmentalist stances to simply veto irrelevant, unfavorable legislature can discredit other genuine attempts to incorporate environmental consciousness into the political sphere. Furthermore, shady wording and excess information incorporated into propositions makes it extremely difficult for voters to know what they’re actually voting for, and have their ballot be a true representation of their ideas/beliefs. Prop 65, if anything, demonstrates that seemingly innocuous propositions often carry completely unrelated, well-hidden baggage.

 

Additional Resources

 

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From the Web: Election Edition

From the Web: Election Edition