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Verde Laguna: California is choking on plastic

September 09, 2010|By Gustavo Grad

Paper or plastic? You see the dilemma, some don't. The Plastic Bag Ban Bill, AB 1998, failed passage last week in the State Senate on a 14-21 vote. A ban that was designed to end the distribution of 19 billion plastic bags annually at retail outlets leaves us instead with a growing environmental problem that is extremely costly for local authorities, which are required to clean up plastic litter.

Whatever side of this issue you may be on, it's helpful to know the facts:

"Last year, more than 70,000 single-use plastic bags were found on California beaches by volunteers in one day," says Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation.

Plastics have become the fastest growing segment of the U.S. municipal waste stream.

Plastic [especially plastic bags and bottles] is the most pervasive type of marine litter around the world, with 267 species of marine organisms worldwide known to have been affected by plastic debris.

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Plastic debris is accumulating in terrestrial and marine environments worldwide, slowly breaking down into tinier and tinier pieces that can be consumed by the smallest marine life at the base of the food web, (source UN Environment Program or UNEP).

After the publication in June 2009 of the study "Marine Litter: A Global Challenge," the UNEP head called for a worldwide ban on thin film plastic bags. Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said: "Some of the litter, like thin film single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere. Other waste can be cut by boosting public awareness, and proposing an array of economic incentives and smart market mechanisms that tip the balance in favor of recycling, reducing or re-use rather than dumping into the sea."

The American Chemical Council, a trade group, fought hard against the measure. It spent $242,000 over six months to hire five lobbying firms before the battle even reached its peak in July and August, according to the L.A. Times.

The chemical industry also wrote campaign checks to lawmakers for tens of thousands of dollars in recent months. Recipients included business-friendly Democrats in the state Senate who joined GOP colleagues to block the bill.

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