Not Without A Fight

Governor Jerry Brown of California recently signed into law the ban of one-time use, disposable thin plastic grocery bags. But that is not the end of it. Yep, the bag people are going to fight it all the way into a public referendum.

The latest salvo I found rather humorous – “What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags ?” I can appreciate this statement because I did come of age at the tail end of the 1960s. Enough said. I don’t believe the analogy is appropriate however.

Marijuana law map - U.S.

Anyone with even the most modest awareness realizes that several states have decriminalized the possession, even the growing and the sale of marijuana even though all of that remains illegal at the federal level. Don Loepp of Plastics News references an article and some comments in the Missourian newspaper from Columbia, MO. It seems that not only was the Columbia City Council deciding on more relaxed laws and policy towards marijuana but they were also presented with a single-use plastic bag ban petition that would encourage the use of paper or reusable bags by a representative of the Sierra Club and a University of Missouri at Columbia biology professor.

One commentor to the Missourian newspaper article shares my perspective and my behavior – “re-usable tote bags …, which are typically neither paper nor plastic (they’re fabric) and are re-usable AND can be laundered. Some such bags carry no cost, because they have ads for grocery stores, wineries and such on them. This method appears to be very ecological when grocery shopping, because you aren’t sending ANY bags to the landfill”. My bags have either been purchased from Whole Foods and given to me by the St Louis Zoo or other non-profit organizations as a kind of perk. I also have an awesomely large and strong bag from LL Bean that I received as a monogrammed gift from my brother and sister-in-law one Christmas.

LL Bean Extra-Large  Boat and Tote Bag,  Open-Top

LL Bean Extra-Large
Boat and Tote Bag,
Open-Top

However, I will also admit to recycling literally thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of PE grocery bags, mostly from WalMart who maintains a fixture for returning them. So, I am aware that these bags are recyclable and I can understand as a business person that they are a very fast and efficient way for the store to check people out. I am also aware of at least one woman’s death when an overloaded plastic bag broke in the parking lot sending a heavy canned good onto her foot resulting in more than one hospitalization, an infection and ultimately her death.

All of this to say that I do personally support bag bans. In California, the law has funds built into it to help manufacturers re-tool their factories to produce a multi-use bag. Even though the new law goes into effect in July 2015 banning single use plastic bags in California that hasn’t stopped an effort to repeal the law. The plastic bag industry has contracted with the American Progressive Bag Alliance to gather enough signatures for a referendum on the November 2016 ballot to repeal Senate Bill 270.

The ban involves excluding petroleum and biobased plastic bags that are light in weight and tend to “take flight” when not disposed of properly, according to Narcisa Untal, senior planner for Integrated Waste Management with Santa Clara county in California.

Establishments such as grocery and convenience stores will place a 10 cent fee on the paper bags or plastic bags that are made up of a high percentage of post consumer content. Shoppers can also bring in their own bag and avoid the fee.

Untal said revenue generated by the fee goes back to the businesses to recoup costs for purchasing the bags, promotion and marketing, and to help with regulatory reporting. The legislation also requires an operator of a store to establish an at-store recycling program that provides to customers the opportunity to return clean plastic carryout bags to that store. Plastic bags that are exempt include those for fruit and vegetables as well as those from the dry cleaners.

This law seems very reasonable to me !! The American Progressive Bag Alliance contends that the new law threatens nearly 2,000 well-paying California jobs in the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry and also represents a government-sponsored, billion-dollar transfer of wealth from working families to grocers in the form of fees on paper and thicker plastic bags; no money collected from bag fees will be used for environmental programs or for any public purpose.

It probably isn’t hard to determine – I’m on the side of the Bag Ban being upheld by the public will for the good of all of us !!

Photo by Kate TerHaar

Photo by Kate TerHaar

~ Information Resources

“What’s more controversial, legalizing pot or criminalizing plastic bags?” posted by Don Loepp at PlasticsNews on 10/22/14 – http://www.plasticsnews.com/article/20141022/BLOG01/141029974/whats-more-controversial-legalizing-pot-or-criminalizing-plastic

“Columbia City Council says no to marijuana, yes to new buildings” posted on 10/21/14 in The Missourian – http://www.columbiamissourian.com/a/180559/columbia-city-council-says-no-to-marijuana-yes-to-new-buildings/

“Group seeks signatures for referendum to repeal California’s plastic bag ban” posted by Melissa Murphy in the San Jose Mercury News – http://www.mercurynews.com/california/ci_26778357/group-seeks-signatures-referendum-repeal-californias-plastic-bag

LL Bean Boat and Tote Bag – http://www.llbean.com/llb/shop/33381?page=boat-and-tote-bag-open-top

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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Is A Little Competition A Good Thing ?

Tree of Green Hearts blowing away
The “green hearts” are in a tizzy about recent developments in green certification systems, as the General Services Administration announced that it will give the federal agencies it oversees a choice of green building certification systems. Because there was already some conflict and tension between the plastics, chemicals and timber industries with the proposed new standards for LEED v4, the news is being met with suspicion of behind the scenes manipulation and lobbying to ease the standards these industries were being called upon to meet.

The “new guy” on the block is the Green Building Initiative’s “Green Globes 2010” system. Still remaining a significant force is the US Green Building Council’s 2009 standards for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
LEED vs Green Globes

I am an environmental skeptic by nature. And it is not lost on me that this decision by the GSA is being met by the more hard-core environmentalists as a ruse. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire and there are a crowd of environmentalists yelling “FIRE !!” on this one. Still, I also try to bring a balanced perspective to any controversial issue, generally finding that there is wisdom in choosing a middle way – not on the fringes of extremism, either direction.

At issue is whether the latest authorization also yields the perception that “the Green Globes rating system aligns slightly better than LEED with federal requirements for new construction, while LEED remains the most compatible green building rating system for existing buildings.” for those are the exact words used in the report.

Treehugger.com in their article about this, shares the following comparison of 3 green certification standards prepared by the Dept of Energy –

Dept of Energy Comparison Chart

Dept of Energy Comparison Chart

Showing there is fuel for that fire is the official governance of the Green Building Initiative organization – “GBI is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. GBI has 53 Members and Supporters and 9 Industry Affiliates. In addition, GBI has over 10,000 ‘Friends of GBI’, formerly known as Associate Members who receive the quarterly newsletter and other information from GBI. There is a Board of Directors, Executive Director, executive staff, and Industry Advisory Board. Decisions of the Industry Advisory Board are non-binding.” I suppose that last bit is supposed to reassure those of us who have reason to be skeptical about what is driving the new competitive kid on the green block.

It probably is not a coincidence that there is a strong foundational perspective in GBI that derives from Hubbell Communications motto – “We understand how public policy and perceptions are created and we use the power of communications to shape both.” (gee, the President of Hubbell Communications – Wade Hubbell, is also the founder of GBI.) Hubbell proudly displays one of their successes on their website, a car manufacturer’s association who had a “legislative problem in Oregon.”-“In just a few days, we had a fresh coalition identity, a campaign website, and a strong social media presence.” Hmmm, there does seem to be a bit of smoke and mirrors going on with GBI and the Green Globes (green washing ?, anyone ?).

After Ward Hubbell left his position as a PR exec at Louisiana Pacific, he received startup capital from the lumber industry for the purpose of establishing a green standard that did not give points to FSC certified lumber (are you smelling it now too ?). In 2006, The Forest and Paper Association told the Wall Street Journal that “Green Globes is much more wood-friendly than LEED”. (Ahhhh, can you see that smoke rising from its source now ?) There is not even an attempt to distance Hubbell Communications from the Green Building Initiatives – they operate out of the same building. How convenient and eco-friendly !!! Fewer carbon emissions.

Smoke Rising from a Forest

Then there is the board of directors of the GBI. It includes a couple of representatives of Dow Chemical, the Vinyl Institute, the Resilient Floor Covering Institute, Solvay, a chemical company, a communications director for Weyerhaeuser, among others. According to Treehugger.com – “Two of the most contentious issues facing the green building industry are lumber certification and the safety of products made from PVC and vinyl. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative has done a tremendous job of attacking LEED, and convincing politicians that FSC is somehow foreign and unamerican; The Chemical industry has politicians writing letters to the GSA complaining that LEED will kill jobs. Now the GSA has a report in their hands that claims ‘the Green Globes rating system aligns slightly better than LEED with federal requirements for new construction’.”

The Vinyl Institute logo
I already knew the background story from Plastics News (a plastics industry trade publication that I receive for our business which recycles a variety of plastics). I knew that the plastics industry as a whole was very unhappy that vinyl was coming under fire. Our business is also deeply concerned about the risks to the environment and human health posed by the production of polyvinyl chloride. The best thing that we can think of, to do personally, is lock it up (after its initial production and use, to recycle it, rather than allow it to go into a landfill). It is our hope that someday, there will be little to none of this in our environment and that better alternatives will have been found.

In the Nov 18, 2013 issue of Plastics News they give the story of the GSA decision, to allow the Green Globes certification system to be used by federal agencies as an alternative choice to the previous dominance by LEED, front page top billing. In an attempt to appear balanced and impartial, they quote The Sierra Club’s, Jason Grant (a member of their Forest Certification and Green Building Team), allowing him to express his suspicions in print, regarding the influence of certain industries on Green Globes standards. “Green Globes certainly goes easy on those industries.” He is further quoted as saying “Apparently the chemical and plastics industry is willing to invest a lot to prevent the truth from coming out.”

The Society of the Plastics Industry is concerned that LEED v4 will encourage its applicants not to use certain materials such as PVC or the fluoropolymers used in wiring and cable. Of additional concern to producers and manufacturers throughout that spectrum are points given to building products that have environmental product declarations (EPDs) and for the firm’s willingness to disclose their ingredients and the sources of raw materials. Wouldn’t you want to know those things ? That the chemicals that you are being exposed to, are not going to cause cancer in you, down the road. One could suspect the prevalence of cancer in our modern society has some of its roots, in the exponential growth of a wide range of new chemical combinations allowed into our lives. But then, you might think I’m being unfair . . . and biased in my blog.

To their credit the USGBC is taking it in stride. Lane Burt, their policy director counters the fears of industry by affirming – “We don’t have language in LEED v4 that says – “Don’t use this stuff.” And acknowledges that has been a significant misunderstanding. Yes, there was a draft, that considered giving points for the avoidance of certain materials, but the council decided to shift towards a more positive perspective, a “green-list approach”.

An environmentalist would be hard pressed to fault the spirit of the proposed LEED v4 standards – credits for life-cycle analysis of materials, product transparency and picking those products that haven’t been extracted in a way that’s environmentally destructive. The Sierra Club’s, Jason Grant, was quoted in Plastics News as saying of v4 – “In general, what it rewards is higher levels of transparency than existed in the past about what chemicals are found in significant quantities in building products.” He feels that knowledge of “… chemicals that might be carcinogenic or mutagenic or endocrine disruptors” is some important information, that people have a right to know; and that profit motives should not be subverting that disclosure.

SOURCES, additional reading – information for this blog came from

Plastics News – “Feds given green light to LEED competitor” by Catherine Kavanaugh

Treehugger.com – “LEED Bashing: Government Study Finds ‘Equivalence’ Between LEED and Green Globes” by Lloyd Alter

LINKS

Hubbell Communications – http://www.hubbellcommunications.com/

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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