Urgent Call to Enforce Existing Plastic Laws

Maggie Gainer, Zero Waste Humboldt

Zero Waste Humboldt joined a growing coalition of organizations and businesses urging California Governor Newsom and State Attorney General Rob Bonta to enforce existing laws on labeling of plastic bags and films, and distribution of thicker plastic bags. Preparing for the declining market for gasoline-powered cars, Big Oil and the petrochemical industry have increased production of single use plastic packaging of all types – cartons, bottles, straws, cups, utensils, clamshells, film wrap, bags and more. Let’s focus here on plastic bags.

Since California voters approved Proposition 67, the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ban in 2016, the reduction of plastic bags has been thwarted by mislabeling. The prevalence of mislabeling and false claims of recyclability, compostability, and reusability on plastics has created such widespread confusion among consumers that the contamination of curbside recycling is at an all-time high – nationwide and on the Redwood Coast. According to The Recycling Partnership, more than half of Californians think plastic bags are accepted in their curbside recycling, even though plastic bags force Materials Recovery Facilities to have costly shut downs on the recycling line many times a day to remove bags wrapped around equipment.

Problems to address:

1. Continued Misinformation on Plastic Bags and Containers to Mislead Shoppers
Tedd Ward, Director of Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority, who serves on the Statewide Recycling Commission, said: “CalRecycle has to expand its outreach to manufacturers and packagers to reduce waste, and actually enforce existing laws when manufacturers improperly label non-recyclable packaging materials as recyclable.”
Shortly after the Commission’s call for enforcement, I had a personal experience that demonstrated the problem. During the holidays, my family returned home from picking up a Chinese food order with the following falsehood printed on a thicker white plastic bag:
“This Reusable Bag is designed for at least 125 uses. . . . It is fully recyclable at the end of its lifespan. This bag is made from recycled plastic including 30% Post Consumer Plastic. PLEASE RETURN TO A PARTICIPATING STORE FOR RECYCLING.”

The bag also displayed the recycling symbol of 3 chasing arrows. The problem is that in our region, (and most regions of the U.S.) there are NO processors or manufacturers that accept these bags. The best advice to conscientious shoppers is whenever possible, buy without single use plastics, and don’t believe the package and bag labels. Follow the instructions of the curbside recycling collector contracted by your local government.

2. California stores should no longer be distributing single-use carryout bags and should inform customers that they charge when providing reusable grocery bags.
Currently, the implementation of this law is largely left up to each store clerk at the checkout counter. Trained and conscientious employees will ask, “Would you like to have a bag for 10 cents?” Untrained or careless clerks don’t mention the bag cost, so you are not informed that you have the option to save money by bringing your own bags.
Stores respond to the changing preferences of their customers, so inquire about this where you shop and, of course, always take your own reusable bag or box.

Zero Waste Humboldt is assisting both store managers and shoppers with Zero Waste training. Email zerowastehumboldt@gmail.com. In the meantime, contact California Attorney General, Rob Bonta by email at https://oag.ca.gov/contact, California State Assemblymember Jim Wood at assemblymember.wood@assembly.ca.gov and California State Senator Mike McGuire at senator.mcguire@senate.ca.gov to express the need for enforcement.

Truth in packaging is a consumer rights, environmental, and business issue.