At first, I thought it was a bad April Fool's joke: A bill requiring warnings on all reusable bags?
Unfortunately, it's not a bad joke, but a very bad policy proposal. State Senator Tony Strickland has introduced a bill, SB 1106, that would require the following warning label on all reusable bags:
“WARNING: Reusable bags must be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent food cross contamination. Failure to do so can cause serious illness, cancer, or birth defects resulting from food-borne pathogens. Once used for other purposes, reusable bags should not be used for carrying groceries.”
Holy hyperbole! If I don't disinfect my reusable bag, I'll get cancer?!
(I can almost hear the evil laughter of the Bag Monster, the character cooked up by California-based reusable bag company ChicoBag to demonstrate the harm of single-use plastic bags. The Bag Monster loves this bill!)
Well, of course the cancer claim is a lie, which is familiar territory for bill author Tony "Phony" Strickland, who ran for state Senate in 2008 (against environmental champion Hannah-Beth Jackson) as an alternative energy executive despite the fact that he had no experience in that area.
In going after reusable bags, Strickland's bill accomplishes two goals: 1) It advances the goals of the plastic industry and their lobbyists at the American Chemistry Council (who funded the, uh, "research" on the trumped-up peril of reusable bags in order to prop up single-use plastic bags) and 2) it attacks a signature accomplishment of his opponent in the 26th Congressional race, Assemblymember Julia Brownley, who authored a statewide plastic bag ban, AB 1998, that was defeated by the chemical industry in 2010 but has since inspired similar successful bans throughout California.
CLCV has endorsed Brownley, who has a stellar 99% lifetime score on our Environmental Scorecard, for Congress, as has the national League of Conservation Voters. (In contrast, Strickland has a truly terrible 7% lifetime score on our Scorecard).
Call me paranoid, but I'm just really curious if the American Chemistry Council has ever supported any of Strickland's campaigns? Alright, I won't keep you in suspense. The answer is yes, to the tune of $3,000, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. But I'm sure that's just a coincidence.
Environmentalists are speaking out against Phony Tony's bill, and the letter written by Californians Against Waste Executive Director Mark Murray was by far the most entertaining "oppose" letter I've ever read. It actually made me LOL, although I was dignified enough not to ROTFL. Let no one ever accuse environmentalists of lacking a sense of humor!
Here are some of the sarcastic suggestions from Murray on how Strickland should amend his bill to require warning labels for consumers about other products:
Strickland Warning Label for Utensils:
“WARNING: Eating utensils must be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent food cross contamination. Failure to do so can cause serious illness, cancer, or birth defects resulting from food-borne pathogens. Once used for other purposes, utensils should not be used for eating.”
Strickland Warning Label for Trick or Treat Bags:
“WARNING: Trick or treat bags must be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent food cross contamination. Failure to do so can cause serious illness, cancer, or birth defects resulting from food-borne pathogens. Once used for other purposes, these bags should not be used for carrying candy or other groceries.”
Strickland Warning Label for Christmas Stockings:
“WARNING: Christmas stockings must be cleaned and disinfected between uses to prevent food cross contamination. Failure to do so can cause serious illness, cancer, or birth defects resulting from food-borne pathogens. Once used for other purposes, these bags should not be used for carrying candy, cookies, or other treats.”
But seriously, folks... The bill and its ethically-challenged author are both laughable, but the intentions behind it -- to undermine the work of environmental champions like Assemblywoman Brownley and stop California's progress away from polluting plastic and towards consumer behavior that preserves our ocean ecology and protects our urban environments from plastic litter -- are deadly serious.
We have to make sure we do everything to expose manipulative efforts like Strickland's. So, let's consider the success of local ordinances that ban plastic bags, and the fact that there has been no increase in food-borne illnesses in these communities.
Back to Mark Murray at CAW:
More than 43 California jurisdictions have adopted ordinances banning single use plastic bags and promoting reusables. Currently, about 1 in 5 Californians live in a jurisdiction that has banned plastic bags, and that number is growing monthly. According to the California Grocers Association, in California communities that have banned plastic bags, 75-90% of consumers bring their own bag. Los Angeles County reports a 94% reduction in all single use bags. Despite this sudden and significant growth in the use of reusable bags in these communities and across the country, there has been no increase in the incidence or reporting of associated food borne illness.
Facts must be a very hard thing for the plastic industry and its friends like Senator Strickland to digest... much like plastic itself, which kills 1.5 million marine animals every year.
Yup, I'll be taking my perfectly safe, perfectly environmental reusable bags -- without warning labels -- to the grocery store later this week, and I hope you will, too. (Right after we tell Senator Strickland what we think of his ridiculous, pro-plastic bill.)