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Millions Spent to Reverse California's Plastic Bag Ban

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Someone's spending a lot of money to keep these in your trash bins. | Photo: John/Flickr/Creative Commons License

As the California Assembly considers two bills that would repeal the state's landmark plastic bag ban, a report by a Sacramento-based political research group reveals that plastic bag makers have spent more than $7 million to attempt to re-open the state to their products.

SB 270, which enacted a phased ban of single-use plastic bags provided free by most California retailers, was signed into law by Governor Brown last year. Since then, opponents of the ban have won enough signatures to get a repeal referendum on the November 2016 ballot, and Assembly Member Matthew Harper has introduced a pair of bills into the Assembly that would strike down SB 270 as well. Implementation of the ban, which had been scheduled for July 1, is now on hold until the voters weigh in in November 2016.

Observers expect Harper's bills to die in the Assembly's Natural Resources Committee. As that committee deliberates, however, the research firm Forward Observer released a report this week, found that 13 plastics companies have spent a cumulative $3.4 million since 2014 to promote the November 2016 referendum, and another $3.1 million on lobbying against disposable bag bans in Sacramento since 2005.

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The companies have also shelled out $519,250 in political contributions since 2005, meaning that those 13 firms have spent more than $7 million trying to defeat plastic bag bans through the legislative process.

That figure doesn't include money spent suing California cities like San Francisco and Oakland that enacted plastic bag bans before SB 270 became law.

According to Forward Observer, 98.9 percent of those expenditures came from non-Californian companies. Leading the pack: Hilex Poly of Hartsville, South Carolina, which has plowed $1,833,500. into supporting the November 2016 ballot measure, $515,250 into campaign contributions since 2005, and $1,900,079 on direct lobbying expenditures.

According to journalist Steven Maviglio, to whom we owe a hat tip on this story, Hilex Poly is now known as Novolex. The firm is owned by the Chicago-based equity firm Wind Point Partners.

By way of perspective, the $7,021,328.33 those 13 plastics companies have spent on defeating California plastic bag bans since 2005 would buy two reusable grocery bags for every Californian, assuming a ten cent bulk wholesale price.

Among the political contributions made by the plastics firms were a $1,300.00 donation in 2013 to the Eric Garcetti For Mayor campaign. The roster of political donations made by the companies includes contributions to Sacramento heavyweights such as State Senators Kevin Deleon and Ricardo Lara, Assembly Members Anthony Rendon, Mimi Walters, and John Perez, and disgraced former Senator Leland Yee.

Forward Observer expects the total amount spent by plastics companies to promote the November 2016 ballot measure repealing the ban to top $50 million.

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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