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September 5-11, 2007

Battling Bags

The trend toward banning plastic bags is growing in the North Bay, sparking organized opposition--including lawsuits. Using the name North Bay Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling, a group of plastic bag manufacturers and recyclers filed a claim Aug. 24 against the town of Fairfax, which recently approved a ban effective Feb. 10. Members of the lawsuit coalition include Emerald Packaging Inc., Fresh Pak Corporation, Advance Polybag Inc., Grand Packaging Inc., Hilex Poly Company LLC, Superbag Operating Ltd. and Kevin Kelly, an Oakland resident.

Even with the court case, Fairfax Mayor Larry Bragman says it's not a matter of whether a ban will eventually be in place, but simply when and how. "If in fact their legal position has merit, the townspeople can seek to rid themselves of this plague by going directly to the ballot," Bragman asserts. "I have no doubt that if that is done, it will succeed."

The lawsuit asks the court to require an environmental impact review prior to enforcing the new law, in order to explore any "unintended consequences" of the ban. Earlier in August, a group called the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling filed a similar suit in Alameda Superior Court, seeking to block Oakland's plastic bag ban, which is slated to start Jan. 15.

Modeled after a similar law adopted this spring in San Francisco, Oakland's ordinance will require large retailers to provide customers with compost-able plastic bags or with paper ones. Fairfax's recently approved ordinance recommends the use of reusable canvas bags in place of plastic or paper. But plastics industry spokesmen argue that most people will simply substitute paper bags for plastic ones, failing to recycle them or doing so improperly. The lawsuit charges that paper bags will take up more space in landfills, and will require more money and energy to make, ship and store than the small, lightweight and inexpensive plastic versions. The lawsuit argues that encouraging the recycling of plastic bags is a better approach than banning them.

However, sentiment against these ubiquitous objects is spreading.The Healdsburg City Council is forming a committee to explore the options for a ban. Other North Bay municipalities may follow suit. The County of Marin has already started a campaign to convince consumers and businesses to voluntarily stop using plastic bags

The actual numbers involved are staggering. Worldwide, it's estimated that 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used annually--more than 1 million bags a minute. In California, it's more than 19 billion a year, creating 147,000 tons of waste. Banning these items is "a movement that's picking up momentum," says Fairfax Mayor Bragman.


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