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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2010

Bagging pollution

What could have been a major breakthrough in reducing the scourge of plastic-bag pollution was trashed by furious lobbying from the plastics industry. Once again, money muscled down prudent policy.

California was on course to become the first state to ban plastic shopping bags. Then opponents stepped in with millions of dollars to spend on lobbying fees, radio ads, and a prime-time television ad that attacked the anti-pollution measure before the state Senate. The American Chemistry Council effectively killed the bill, despite support from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The state was poised to lead a national movement against plastic-bag pollution, a blight on the land. However, old excuses about job loss and poor economic timing prevailed.

Though the defeat is discouraging, it is not the end of a burgeoning movement in the United States that is nudging consumers to be good stewards of the environment. Breaking old shopping habits to eliminate one-use plastic bags isn't easy, as Toledo officials discovered in 2008 when a proposed 5-cent tax on plastic bags went nowhere.

But change is possible. Other counties such as China and Ireland, have curbed plastic bag use through fees or bans. Financial incentives to avoid plastic bags have prodded people to start using recyclable paper bags, plastic that can be turned into compost, or cloth totes.

The amount of plastic littering the landscape and the damage it causes the environment and wildlife is in plain view. The question is not whether consumers should start taking their own bags to grocery and other stores, but when.

It's the right thing to do, despite the millions of dollars that are spent on lobbying campaigns to say otherwise.

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