From produce aisle to checkout lane: All things grocery in Washington

In bag-tax debates, the ACC sticks to its talking points. For years

May 4, 2011 - 01:04 PM
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Yesterday was a tough day for the American Chemistry Council, the plastic lobbying entity that injects itself into bag-tax debates across the country. Despite its best efforts, the ACC watched Montgomery County pass a 5-cent fee on plastic bags yesterday.

Shari Jackson of the ACC is disappointed in the MoCo County councilmembers for their vote. “We tried to educate them,” she says. “We certainly did testify at the hearing. We tried to make a very strong case that recycling is a viable option.” Jackson says the ACC is always spreading the good word about recycling and “the fact that it gets lost in the media is not due to us not making them aware.”

But looking back at the ACC’s arguments against bag taxes over the years, it’s clear that the pro-plastic lobby's rhetorical arsenal has gotten a bit stale.

Consider its rhetoric against San Jose in December last year:

“The measure will raise grocery costs for city residents and hurt workers and small businesses.”

That should sound familiar to those involved with the fight in Los Angeles County the month before, when the ACC released this statement:

“It will unnecessarily raise grocery costs for county residents, hurt workers and small businesses and fail to earmark one penny for environmental improvement programs”

Or in a statement about California Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, who proposed a bag ban in August of 2010:

“Not once has Assemblywoman Brownley offered to sit down with ACC to discuss alternative approaches that would not result in job loss, higher grocery costs for consumers and reduced recycling opportunities.”

The grocery cost/job loss/small business argument isn’t the only one repeated repeatedly by the ACC. “San Francisco” is another favorite theme.

Consider this statement about Brownsville, Tex., January 2010:

“A recent study clearly shows that San Francisco’s ban on plastic bags in 2007 resulted in a switch to paper bags, which require 70 percent more energy to produce, generate 50 percent more greenhouse gas emissions and produce 80 percent more waste than plastic bags.”

Or Palo Alto, Calif., March 2009:

San Francisco’s experiment with a plastic bag ban led most shoppers to switch to paper bags. At a time when energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are of paramount concern, this switch is detrimental—plastic grocery bags require 70 percent less energy to manufacture and produce 50 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than paper.”

And Toronto, December 2008:

San Francisco’s ban on plastic grocery bags did not decrease litter and caused shoppers to switch to paper bags which require 70 percent more energy to manufacture, produce 50 percent more greenhouse gas emissions and create five times more waste.”

Other popular talking points include taxing people in a bad economy (New York 2009, California 2010) and arguing that bag fees or bans would actually hurt the environment (North Carolina 2009, Fairfax, Calif. 2008).

I asked Jackson if there were any plans to mix it up with the rhetoric for the next fight against plastic bag legislation. “We’re constantly looking at other ways to further get the message out about recycling,” she says. “As a new element, we’re looking to measure the effect of these recycling programs.” She adds: “We always emphasize it and you rarely see any coverage of it.”

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