California’s Plastic Bag Ban On Track for Passage in November

Steven Maviglio
Principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm

One of the marquee measures in the November election will be the last measure on the ballot: the referendum on Senate Bill 270, the law signed by Governor Jerry Brown to ban single-use plastic bags. Supporters of the ban will be seeking a “Yes” vote.

To date, plastic bag manufacturers have spent $5.96 million toward repealing the ban. According to the California Secretary of State, 99 percent of the contributions are from out-of-state to the inappropriately named “American Progressive Bag Alliance.”

The largest donor is Hilex Poly (also known as Novolex), a South Carolina-based company, which is owned by Wind Point Partners, a Chicago-based private equity firm. It has contributed $2.78 million, in addition to continuing to hire Sacramento lobbyists. Interestingly, the company also announced last week that it has begun the manufacturing of recyclable paper bags and has purchased several paper bag companies in addition to a hiring spree – despite the company wrongly stating the ban will cost jobs.

Another major contributor is Formosa Plastics, whose parent company in Taiwan has been in the headlines for its responsibility for a massive fish kill on the central Vietnamese coast.

Research published in November 2015 indicates the out-of-state plastic bag companies will have to spend in excess of $55 million on their campaign – a number based on prior elections when there were far fewer than the 17-20 measures that are expected to be on the November ballot. (The other measure put forth by the companies for this year’s ballot still has not officially qualified.)

Meanwhile, California cities and towns continue to pass local bans despite the initiative threat. Some 149 jurisdictions now have bans in place. Sacramento County’s recently enacted ban will take effect on July 1, Napa County is now entirely covered by a ban after several towns adopted regulations, Santa Barbara County and Hermosa Beach enacted bans, Alameda County is looking at broadening its ban, and San Diego also is poised to move forward with its ban.

According to independent polling, support for the plastic bag ban is strong throughout California. And it’s even stronger among the roughly half of the state’s population that already lives with a ban. A poll released in May also shows that Latinos, Asian-Pacific Americans, African-Americans, and other minority populations are even stronger supporters.

The YES vote on the referendum also recently received the backing of the California Democratic PartyLos Angeles Democratic Party, the League of Cities Environmental Quality Policy Committee, and numerous other groups. As the only environmental measure of the ballot, the YES campaign also is receiving strong backing from Californians Against Waste, Environment California, the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, the California League of Conservation Voters, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Momentum for plastic bag bans continues across the United States based on California’s leadership. For example,Massachusetts is expected to move forward on a statewide ban,New York City is implementing measures, and voters in two Maine towns overwhelmingly passed bans despite aggressive campaigns by the plastic bag industry  — perhaps a harbinger of the California vote.

As the old saying goes, “As goes Maine, so goes the nation” – including, it appears, California.

(Steven Maviglio is spokesperson for California vs. Big Plastic.)

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