In the film, American Beauty, Wes Bentley’s character asks Thora Birch’s character, “You wanna see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever filmed?” What we are shown is a plastic bag dancing in the wind amongst some leaves. It is played against a backdrop of melancholy piano music. I don’t remember what I thought or felt watching this for the first time, being that it was nearly two decades ago. But it was supposed to be very artsy-fartsy and evocative. I do, however, have some very strong feelings, now, when I see any single-use plastic bag swirling around outside in the wind. I feel sadness and disgust. Those bags are so bad for so many reasons.
On land, plastic, single-use bags are difficult to recycle. They frequently clog up recycling machines. If the bags end up in landfills, which is what happens to most of the 13 billion distributed each year in California, it takes about a thousand years for them to break down. When they do break down, gases from the petroleum products used to make them are released into the atmosphere. This means more carbon gases to accelerate global warming and subsequent climate change.
Plastic Bags Get Around
If people don’t keep an eye on their plastic bags, they can get into sewers and find their way to the ocean. In the Pacific, all kinds of plastics have formed the Earth’s largest dump know as the Pacific Garbage Patch. It has been collecting for quite a few decades, and its mass is six times that of surface zooplankton. Sea creatures, from jellyfish to whales, will confuse plastic for food and become sick and, sadly, often die because of it. These animals also commonly die of strangulations by plastic bags.
So reducing the use of plastics any way we can should be a no-brainer, and eliminating or greatly reducing single-use plastic bags is one way we can do that. Wee did just that with SB270. Now the plastics industry, under the guise of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, has put forth two propositions on the California ballot, 65 and 67.
Propositions 65 and 67
The argument for prop 65 is that, since consumers are required to pay 10¢ for a sturdy, reusable bags, in case they don’t have their own, the profits made from the purchase of those bags should go to environmental groups. Superficially, prop 65 looks good, but it is misleading. The 10-cent price really only covers the cost of the bags, since they are of higher quality than the one-time use bags. There really would be no profits to give to the environmental groups. The plastics industry is trying to deflect focus away from the serious effects of plastic bags.
As for prop 67, it is asking us to make sure we still want to place a ban on most single-use plastic bags. It is an effort to veto SB270, which Governor Brown signed in 2014. The American Progressive Bag Alliance claims this law is poorly written, but what would you expect from the plastics industry, since SB270 threatens their profits. There are many details to cover, but if you want more information, a good resource is from Heal the Bay.
So, bottom line… I recommend a no vote on 65 and a yes vote on 67.