So we finally have a ruling on the plastic bag lawsuit, and unsurprisingly, Judge Roesch agreed with the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling that the City needs to prepare an Environmental Impact Report before adopting the ban.
The Council passed the plastic bag ban in July, and it was set to take effect in January. In August, we got sued, and Judge Roesch heard arguments on the suit in January. The Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling’s argument is essentially that the ban will be harmful to the environment (an argument I made before the ban passed) because it will lead to increased use of paper bags, which are more environmentally unfriendly than plastic bags, and compostable plastic bags, which are no more environmentally friendly than regular plastic bags.
The Coalition’s argument is based on the following facts:
- Paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic bags. The require nearly five times as much energy to produce as plastic bags, generate 70% more air pollutants and 50% more water pollutants than plastic bags, and require 84 times as much energy to recycle than plastic bags.
- Compostable plastic bags, which are allowed under the ordinance, require no less energy to produce than regular plastic bags, contaminate batches of regular plastic bags if combined with them so as to make them unrecyclable, and photodegrade, rather than biodegrade, breaking down into tiny pieces that contaminate soil and water.
Nadel’s response to their argument is that we have no way of knowing if the ban will have negative environmental impacts, because “it would be impossible to predict” whether shoppers will switch to paper bags or reusable canvas bags. If you want a good indicator of whether people, without the option of plastic, will use paper or canvas bags, all you need to do is go hang out at Whole Foods for a while, where they don’t have plastic bags, and look at what people are carrying their groceries out in. I hung out for a while and counted one day, and the ratio was something like 30 to 1 using paper bags.
To prepare an Environmental Impact Report studying the ban will cost the city roughly $100,000. With the forthcoming budget shortfall, the decision should be a no-brainer. This is not a good use of the City’s resources. So what does Nancy Nadel think? From the Chronicle:
Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, a co-author of the oil-based plastic bag ordinance, said she hoped the council would order up a full environmental report so the ban can be enacted.
“Of course I’m disappointed, but we’ll proceed with the EIR and get it done,” Nadel said. “I think we can prove that it will be an improvement to the environment to ban plastic bags. Every time I walk down my street, there are at least three plastic bags stuck in the bushes. It’s really awful.”
You know, I was feeling fairly charitable the other day when I wrote about Nancy Nadel and Jean Quan voting in favor of the ill-advised parking ticket community service plan, mostly, I guess, because it didn’t pass, and I sympathized with the desire to do something good. But this is ridiculous. There is more to environmental responsibility and a commitment to sustainability than meaning well. You have to think about how things are actually going to work. Look, nobody likes reusable bags more than me. I carry a bunched up canvas bag in my purse basically all the time, in case I feel the need for an impulse purchase. I bring reusable nylon produce bags with me to the farmer’s market. When I arrived at the drugstore the other day, planning to pick up some necessities, and I realized I had forgotten my canvas bag, I put my things back and went home to get it rather than accept a paper bag. But most people do not do this. And they aren’t going to start simply because you take away one of several options for disposable bags. Being bothered by seeing them on the street is not a logical reason to ban the least environmentally harmful disposable bag option.
This City will never progress as long as the Council refuses to think about implementation. When we consider an ordinance or approve a funding request, we need to be asking serious questions about how it will work and what the real consequences will be. Nancy Nadel’s heart may be in the right place, but a City doesn’t run on good intentions, and her consistent refusal to think about practicality has held District 3 and Oakland back for far too long. Oakland needs fiscally responsible Councilmembers who understand the difference between reality and fantasy. Vote Sean Sullivan!