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Olive Avenue Confidential: City Council should join fight against plastic

September 14, 2010|By Joe Piasecki

As transparent a concession to corporate lobbies as they come, Sacramento's recent failure to pass legislation that would have phased out single-use plastic grocery bags in California wasn't just a great disappointment to environmentalists.

The California Grocers Assn., a trade group that represents thousands of bag-slinging retailers statewide, would also like to put an end to the high-density polyethylene blizzard blowing down streets, blanketing landfills, choking storm drains and drifting out to sea.

The group, which maintains its Southern California headquarters right here in Burbank, favored a blanket ban that would allow each of its members to go cold turkey on their costly plastic habit without fear of losing a competitive edge.

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But on Aug. 31, a majority of state senators sided instead with Virginia-based bag-ban opponents, the American Chemistry Council, which represents manufacturers such as the Dow Chemical Co. and ExxonMobil.

That punts the issue to the local level, and what better place to start than at home?

And so if Burbank officials are prepared to embargo disposable shopping bags, the association's government relations director, Matthew Dodson, said his group is fully on board.

With City Council members expected on Tuesday to discuss city waste reduction priorities with members of the Sustainable Burbank Task Force, the timing couldn't be better for a bag-ban proposal to make its way onto the local agenda.

The ubiquity of plastic grocery bags has had more of a negative ecological and fiscal impact on Burbank than one might expect.

Aside from littering sidewalks and clogging storm drains, most of Burbank's plastic bags end up cluttering a landfill in the hills above the DeBell Golf Course — including those placed in curbside recycling bins, said city recycling specialist Ferris Kawar.

Bags arriving at the Burbank Recycle Center on Flower Street tend to wrap around spinning mechanisms on the sorting lines and gum up the works, creating several hours of unnecessary cleanup each week.

In fact, "Every shift change workers have to climb up on the machines and cut out these bags," Kawar said.

Similar burdens exist in other California communities, but most have held off discussion while awaiting a state Supreme Court decision on legal challenges against local bans.

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