Author: Manna Selassie
The California State Senate fell three votes short to enact Plastic Bag Bill SB405 on Sept. 3. The “bag ban” would have banned single-use plastic bags at retailer locations, including grocery stores and shopping malls. Senator Kevin de Leon, a Democrat who represents Los Angeles County’s 22nd senatorial district, which includes Eagle Rock, Downtown L.A. and East Hollywood, voted against the bill in the name of the employment needs of Latina immigrants. DeLeon’s irrational opposition, which used Latina immigrants as a scapegoat, came as a surprise to many residents who were in support of the bill.
At an Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council meeting, DeLeon replied to community members’ concerns about his opposition by stating that it would eliminate jobs for “more than one thousand Latinas, many of them immigrants, at several plants in my district.” His statement brings more controversy to the seemingly simple bill, putting job security after the Great Recession at odds with environmentalism during the era of climate change awareness. Many know that in politics it is often much easier to get people behind improving the economy at the expense of the environment. However, that is not the problem here. De Leon, in condemning the bill, questionably invoked the needs of Latina immigrants.
De Leon’s decision may have been more widely supported if the bag ban really affected Latina immigrants the way he asserted. The L.A. Business Journal found that many plastic bag companies were actually just shifting their production to reusable bags, meaning no jobs would be lost. In addition, the L.A. Board of Public Works found that the city’s ban would affect just 15 jobs rather than DeLeon’s figure of one thousand.
It is highly unlikely that the opposition against the bag ban is due to Latina immigrants’ employment stability. In that case, there are several other legislative bills to fight that actually significantly affect Latina immigrants. It is doubtful that politicians like de Leon, who receive corporate funding, are as concerned about the 15 unemployed Latinas as they are about their corporate benefactors. It is dubious that concern for 15 Latina immigrants’ employment deterred California from leading the nation in the bag ban.
Large corporations have much more political influence and funding than minority groups, so DeLeon’s defense of his position in the name of Latinas does not hold water. An anti-bag ban ad campaign which aired in Sacramento throughout the time that lawmakers were deciding on the same issue in 2010 indignantly tried to steer lawmakers in their idea of the right direction by stating, “California has real problems, including a huge budget deficit, home foreclosures and millions of workers without jobs … Lawmakers should be working on real problems, not wasting their time on legislation to tell us how to bag our own groceries.” This campaign was commissioned by the American Chemistry Council, a group that represents 80 percent of the companies that produce plastic bags nationwide.
Banning plastic bags has numerous benefits for the economy, our health and environment. With less plastic bags, California will gain an environment less satiated with non-biodegradable plastic. Lessening the need for plastic means clean water and air, safer wildlife and less use of landfills. Additionally, there is the personal efficiency and positive environmental impact in having your own set of shopping bags instead of going through dozens of bags monthly. On this topic, there is no need to convince most at Occidental College, or in much of the rest of California.
Today many people understand the potential environmental benefits of ceasing to use plastic bags and are taking the steps to change our culture. Although less than five percent of plastic bags are recycled in California according to the Sacramento Bee, there is still hope. Even if our politicians cannot beat the corporations, some Californians have already. Many Californians have already taken personal steps toward life without, or at least with fewer, plastic bags. Cities like San Jose have seen those benefits first-hand with plastic bag litter reducing by 89 percent in drainage systems, by 60 percent in rivers and creeks and by 59 percent in the streets. Seventy-five cities have banned plastic bags. Our culture is changing, even if state politics are a little behind.
The Eagle Rock Community should make its desire to ban plastic bags clear by speaking out loudly against Senator de Leon’s position. The sinking of the bag ban primarily served corporations, not the people of California or its Latina immigrant population. Californians and the environment should not suffer due to plastic bag pollution anymore. Instead, California politicians should simply pass the bill in order to put funding and energy elsewhere.
Manna Selassie is a senior Diplomacy and World Affairs major. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @WklyMSelassie.
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