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Friday, Aug 12, 2022

Bag Makers Join Plastic Ban Fold

A statewide ban on single-use plastic bags would be bad news for manufacturers of those bags, but a handful of local companies are ready to profit from a prohibition.

Gov. Jerry Brown has said he will sign a bill to ban single-use plastic bags, a move that should grow the market for the sturdier, reusable bags made by L.A.-area manufacturers Earthwise Bag Co. and Command Packaging.

Earthwise in Burbank already has seen its sales of reusable bags increase after bans went into effect in Los Angeles, Long Beach and other cities. Stanley Joffe, chief executive of Earthwise, anticipates an additional boost if a statewide ban becomes law. “Obviously, the same expectation is, once the state bans single-use plastic bags, there will be an increase,” he said.

The governor has not signed the bill, but said he would do so during a recent debate with Republican gubernatorial challenger Neel Kashkari.

Bag makers have spent the past several years watching cities up and down the state adopt bans of their own, and some saw that as evidence a statewide ban was inevitable. That’s why Command saw fit to invest millions of dollars in expanding its recycling capabilities, ensuring its supplies of plastic needed for bags that would still be legal in a postban marketplace.

But other manufacturers, notably Huntington Park’s Crown Poly Inc., have been slower to change and now say shifting toward reusable bags would be a costly endeavor.

“I don’t know how difficult it is, but it’s very expensive,” said Cathy Browne, Crown Poly’s general manager.

Brand-new bags

Command in Vernon makes reusable sacks made from recycled plastic and is investing tens of millions to ramp up its manufacturing capacity.

The company last year invested in a Salinas subsidiary called Encore Packaging that repurposes agricultural plastic into bags. Peter Grande, Command’s chief executive, said the company has invested about $15 million in recycling operations in Salinas and Vernon and has earmarked another $25 million to expand manufacturing capacity related to an expected increase in statewide demand for reusable plastic bags.

Called “smarterbags,” Command’s reusable bags are a thicker alternative to common grocery bags. They’re similar to those used by bookstores and clothing shops, with a glossy exterior and a sturdier feel. They’re also made mostly of recycled plastic.

Grande said they meet the proposed state law’s requirements to be considered reusable.

He’s no fan of bag bans, saying there’s no scientific evidence to support them. But he also said it’s been clear for some time that the state would eventually ban single-use bags, so it made sense for the company to ramp up its reusable offerings.

“We believe reform is part of business,” he said. “We came to the conclusion there’s going to be a de facto statewide ban at some point.”

About 10 percent of Command’s revenue comes from selling bags to grocery stores; the rest is from sales to restaurants and other retailers.

Grande said he supports the bill Brown has promised to sign because it includes a meaningful definition of what constitutes a reusable bag. The law requires reusable plastic bags to stand up to being used at least 125 times, have handles and include a tag denoting its manufacturer and the country where it was made.

Grande asked for such a definition in a meeting with state Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, one of three L.A.-area Democrats backing the ban. Command even hosted the January press conference at which De Leon, along with Sens. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, and Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, introduced the bill.

Earthwise, which has 20 employees in Burbank, produces its bags at factories in China and Mexico. The company advertises its shopping bags as being washable, and produces other similar goods including bags designed to carry wine bottles.

Its products are available at Albertsons, Bristol Farms and Gelson’s, Joffe said.

Though Earthwise would not release sales figures, Joffe said he has seen an increase in sales as cities across the state have banned single-use bags.

But he also said the company does not need government action to create a market for its products. It has been selling bags since 2005, before the beginning of the trend of municipal bag bans.

San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban single-use plastic bags in 2007.

Costly compliance

Across California, 87 cities and counties have banned single-use plastic bags, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office. Such bags compose merely 2 percent of the state’s total trash, but as much as 80 percent of marine debris near the California coast.

If Brown signs the proposal, SB 270, a statewide ban would go into effect at large stores in July, with smaller retailers coming under the law one year later.

Trade groups opposing the ban on business grounds include the California Manufacturers & Technology Association and the American Progressive Bag Alliance. The alliance estimates that plastic bag companies employ some 1,800 people in California.

Crown Poly has been a vocal opponent of the ban. Browne, the company’s general manager, said the majority of the company’s business comes from grocery bags. Although Crown Poly has done some research on alternative products, she declined to reveal details.

She did say, however, that changing Crown Poly’s business to meet government demands would require costly purchases of new equipment. The bill requires the state to set aside $2 million to help manufacturers adjust to a ban, but Browne called that amount a drop in the bucket.

As is the case with local bans, SB 270 would require stores to charge 10 cents for each paper bag used by customers who don’t either bring their own bags or buy reusable ones. Although the bill would require grocers to spend the fee revenue from bags on costs associated with the plastic bag ban, Browne said the measure is just a giveaway to another industry.

“Our product is going to be banned for no reason other than the profit motive for the grocers,” she said.


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