Industry groups opposed to Los Angeles County’s newly passed ban on plastic grocery bags are weighing whether to file legal challenges against the ordinance.
The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, an advocacy group largely made up of plastic bag manufacturers, believes the county’s environmental impact report exaggerates the negative effects of plastic bags. Meanwhile, the American Chemistry Council, a national trade group whose members include plastic bag makers, is examining whether the ban violates a recently passed state proposition.
“A legal challenge is certainly possible and will be very justified,” said Stephen Joseph, counsel for the coalition. “The Los Angeles County EIR is underinformative, misinformative, misleading and incomplete.”
The group has 30 days from the passing of the ordinance to file a legal challenge.
The ban, passed last week by the county’s Board of Supervisors, will prohibit plastic carryout bags at grocery, convenience, liquor and drugstores and adds a 10 cent surcharge on paper bags. It only affects unincorporated areas in the county, but officials intend to promote its adoption by the county’s 88 cities.
The passage of the ordinance follows the industry’s successful squelching of legislation in Sacramento that would have instituted a similar ban statewide.
The first phase of the county ordinance, affecting only a small number of stores, goes into effect in June. By January 2012, roughly 1,000 stores countywide will have to obey the law.
But Joseph, whose group was formed in 2008 to respond to the “environmental misinformation campaign about plastic bags,” claimed that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly than paper bags, and that the EIR exaggerated their choking or trapping harm to marine mammals.
Tim Shestek, senior director of state affairs of the chemistry council, said his organization is looking into whether it has a legal case that the ban violates state Proposition 26, which was passed Nov. 2 and requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to raise fees on industry. The group also plans to fight the ban’s possible spread to other counties and cities.
“We think there’s a better way to approach this issue than putting a tax on consumers and putting people’s manufacturing jobs at risk in the Southern California area,” he said.
Calls to the county counsel’s office and to the office of Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky were not returned.
County Counsel Andrea Ordin has previously stated that the 10 cent paper bag surcharge is not a fee because the revenue is not collected by a government agency.
While some in the industry are threatening legal action, some manufacturers are thinking compromise.
Pete Grande, president of Vernon-based plastic bag manufacturer Command Packaging, said he may seek an exemption for the kind of plastic bags he makes.
Command manufactures sturdy plastic bags from recycled material that are used, for example, by Cheesecake Factory for takeout. He said they can be reused 125 times, but would still be banned since they do not meet certain specifications. For example, the ordinance requires that reusable bags be machine washable.
“I believe this is the formula to create green California jobs,” he said. “To create what everyone wants, which is more recycling, and reduction of single-use bags.”
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