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Films | Flexibles | Bags

Films | Flexibles | Bags Plastic bags in California A discussion of plastic bag bans and the future of biobased bags in California by Sue Vang Californians Against Waste Sacramento, California, USA California is leading the way in phasing out unnecessary single-use plastic carryout bags. San Francisco was the first city in the state, and the USA, to ban plastic bags in 2007. Currently, it is also the only California jurisdiction to allow the sale of compostable plastic shopping bags and provide residents a curbside composting program where they can properly dispose of them. Along with San Francisco, 51 other local governments across the state have banned plastic carryout bags since then [1]. The most recent ordinances are designed to shift consumers towards reusable bag use by banning plastic bags and placing a charge on paper bags. Why Plastic Bags? Plastic carryout bags are not only causing harm to our wildlife and environment, they also cost the state upwards of 0 million each year for litter management, repairs of clogged equipment, and inflated product prices. Recycling or placing a deposit on these bags (similar to the Bottle Bill deposit) will not work. Despite having a statewide collection infrastructure, the last reported recycling rate for plastic grocery bags was 3% [2]. Moreover, the material has a tendency to get caught in the bearings and shafts of sorting machinery, resulting in expensive repairs and lost revenue. Not only did the City of San Jose report million annual loss during its short-lived curbside collection program for plastic bags, it also noted that the market for the material was so dismal the city ended up paying someone to take them away instead [3]. Voluntary efforts to decrease plastic bag use have been nowhere near as successful as plastic bag bans or charges. Los Angeles County’s plastic bag ban recently reported a 95% reduction of all single-use bags [4], and a five cent bag charge in Washington DC dropped single-use bag distribution from an estimated 22.5 million to 3.3 million in the first month alone, an 85% decrease [5]. Meanwhile, an extensive program in Santa Clara County, CA to encourage reusable bags resulted in a 2% increase[6], and South San Francisco’s voluntary bag ban reported noncompliance from several large stores after the first nine months [7]. History At the state level, legislation to reduce plastic bag usage has been introduced several times but remains unsuccessful for the time being. In 2003, Assembly Bill (AB) 586 (Koretz) proposed a two cent charge on single-use plastic bags and cups, with the proceeds going into a litter cleanup fund. The bill did not pass out of the legislature. Several years later, AB 2449 (Levine) became the first major plastic bag regulation passed in the state. In 2006, it mandated a statewide bag recycling infrastructure while at the same time prohibiting local governments from requiring a charge on plastic bags. San Francisco, which had been poised to vote on a plastic bag charge prior to AB 2449’s passage, subsequently adopted an outright ban of the product. In the years after AB 2449, the legislature introduced several measures for a statewide solution charging for 16 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/12] Vol. 7

Films | Flexibles | Bags single-use plastic bags (AB 2058/AB 2769/AB 2829 in 2007- 2008 and AB 68/AB 87/AB 1141 in 2009-2010), all of which were unable to make it out of the legislature. Meanwhile, local governments continued to ban plastic bags in the wake of San Francisco’s leadership, with LA County becoming the first to add a paper bag charge in 2010. A few months earlier, a similar proposal in the state (AB 1998) by Assembly Member Brownley had failed by just a few votes to pass the final house on the last day of session. Recent News The California state legislature runs on a two year cycle. The last cycle started in January 2011 and ended on August 31, 2012. During this session, it was no surprise that several bag-related bills were introduced. Two of those bills were AB 298 and Senate Bill (SB 1219). AB 298 (Brownley) proposed to ban plastic bags and require a charge on allowed bags (ie. paper, compostable plastic, and reusable bags). The bill was still in a policy committee at the end of session, but can be reintroduced under a new author and bill number in the next session. In the interim, environmental advocates continue to build on the momentum at the local ordinance level. SB 1219 (Wolk) extends the AB 2449 sunset from 2013 to 2020 while at the same time removing the preemption on local bag charges. The bill passed out of the legislature and was signed into law this year. Outlook for Bioplastic Bags While San Francisco remains the only California jurisdiction to ban all single-use plastic carryout bags except for compostable plastic bags, other cities could potentially consider including the bags in their ordinances as well. One major benefit, as San Francisco has realized, is that these bags could be reused to help collect and compost residential food and yard waste, eliminating the contamination issues associated with non-compostable bags in organic waste. But a major concern is whether or not there is local infrastructure for proper disposal of compostable plastic bags. For example, AB 298 would have allowed the sale of compostable bags, provided that a “majority of the residential households in the jurisdiction have access to curbside collection of foodwaste for composting.” If there isn’t a pathway to commercial composting, the compostable plastic bags will not meet their intended end-of-life destination. Nearly 1.2 million households [8], or roughly 10%, in the state are reported to have curbside composting programs. And this number could likely increase with the passage and implementation of AB 341 (Chesbro), placing a 75% recycling goal for the state by the year 2020. Another concern is whether or not these bioplastic bags are actually environmentally beneficial. False claims could lead to increased littering behavior, or contamination in the compost and recycling streams if the material doesn’t break down as promised. Fortunately, under SB 567 (DeSaulnier) all plastic products in the state must meet specific environmental marketing requirements, e.g., passing ASTM Standard Specifications D6400 or D6868 before being labeled as ‘compostable’. For the past few years, CAW (Californians Against Waste) has worked on an enforcement campaign against greenwashed plastics, resulting in several successful investigations and removals of illegally labeled ‘biodegradable’ products from the marketplace [9]. As decision makers recognize the potential benefits and utility of biobased plastic bags—from collecting more food waste to shifting away from oil-based plastics and towards renewable resources—this could result in a growing trend of proposed plastic bag legislation and ordinances which include these products. But before that happens, certain obstacles must be overcome. Although the future of biobased bags in California is still unwritten, state legislation sponsored by CAW could pave the way for more truly compostable bags by encouraging food scrap composting and discouraging greenwashing. [1] bags/local (accessed October 29, 2012) [2] htm (accessed October 29, 2012) [3] SINGLE-USE CARRYOUT BAG ORDINANCE.pdf (accessed October 29, 2012) [4] (accessed October 30, 2012) [5] article/2010/03/29/AR2010032903336.html (accessed October 30, 2012) [6] (accessed October 30, 2012) [7] (accessed October 30, 2012) [8] Biocycle Nationwide Survey, Residential Food Collection in the US, January 2012 [9] bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/12] Vol. 7 17

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