As public demand for single-use plastic regulation arises in an area, the plastics industry and its allies will spend significant amounts of money to defend their products place in the consumer market. Especially as a proposal to ban or regulate a particular kind of single-use plastic or packaging goes through the motions of becoming law, the industry will hire lobbyists to protect its interests – namely, the stop all efforts to eliminate or reduce plastic.
Your local coalitions need to be prepared for both the professionalism of these lobbyists and the sophistication of the arguments they will make. Some common industry arguments are that bag regulations hurt businesses, hurts jobs, aren’t equitable for the poor, that plastic bags are reused and recycled, that reusable bags make people sick, and that people don’t want government taking away their free will.
Below, you will find details on the industry arguments which have proven to be most salient to lawmakers, and we quote or cite resources to help you in your efforts to both rebut the industry’s arguments and to uphold the benefits of plastic regulation for your local area and for the environment as a whole.
Recycling – Plastic bag recycling may seem like an easy solution to the problem of plastic pollution but there are several complications to recycling plastic bags and the recycling rate is low. It is difficult to know the exact plastic bag recycling rate due to bags being commingled with other plastic film. The plastic bag recycling rate varies from 3% in California, USA in 2009 to an overall USA nationwide 6.1% plastic bag recycling rate in 2009.
Plastic bag recycling is often not understood and can lead to complications at the material recovery facility (MRF). Plastic bags are generally not accepted in curbside recycling bins and must be recycled separately by taking them to drop off locations. Plastic bags that end up at the MRF often snag or impair the equipment and have to be removed by hand. This time consuming and often dangerous process can result in economic losses. According to the City of Albuquerque, NM, “Plastic bags of any type are the WORST contaminant in the recycling cart. They wrap themselves around the equipment at the material recovery facility (MRF). When enough bags have become tangled the MRF must shut down to remove plastic bags from the equipment.”
Regulating or requiring that plastic bags be recycled is one argument against bans. In 1991 Maine, USA was the first state to require stores that gave out plastic bags to have recycling receptacles. This legislation has been copied in at least 4 other states. In 2006 California, USA passed AB 2449, which established California’s at-store recycling program for plastic bags. In 2007 retail stores were required to keep records on annual use and recycling of plastic bags along with submitting an annual report to CalRecycle. In 2009 these data were used to show that the plastic bag recycling rate in California was only 3%. The state proceeded to push for a ban on plastic bags, which occurred in 2014 (SB 270) and was upheld in 2016.
The best approach for the problem of plastic pollution is source reduction. Eliminating plastic bags through bans and fees is the best approach while still allowing for plastic film recycling through store drop off location.
Waste to Energy – GAIA Resources
Pro Poor – The industry also tries to get poor communities and minority communities on their side to speak about how bag bans harm their communities – this should be addressed an Opposition Tactic