Plastic Industry Lobbyists Prevent Communities From Reducing Pollution

A review of lobbying disclosure records from several Midwestern states reveals that a new Michigan law banning communities from enacting regulations on plastic bags may be part of a larger special interests campaign by plastic manufacturers to keep their products on shelves and in grocery stores.

Last spring, Michigan State Senator Jim Stamas introduced legislation allowing the state of Michigan to preempt all local ordinances regulating the use, sale, and taxation of plastic bags.

For many in Michigan, the bill, which recently became law, was unexpected. Why is the legislature working to stop communities from making their own decisions about what was best for their residents; an idea running contrary to the common rhetorical refrains of Lansing’s majority party.

QuikMateEZ Bag on Rack
Novolex QuikMate EZ Bag on Rack – Credit: Novolex

The answer may be as simple as money and special interest. A month before Stamas introduced his bill, a little known organization, the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), registered to lobby in Michigan.

The APBA, in their own words, “proactively promotes product lines and leads numerous public policy initiatives that serve as the frontline defense against plastic bag bans and taxes nationwide.” They represent the Plastics Industry Association.

Michigan does not require lobbyists to disclose what bills they work on. To get a better idea of the potential influence of APBA, I examined similar legislation around the country and found a nearly identical bill in Wisconsin where disclosure laws are a bit more robust.

As we saw in Michigan, a bill banning local communities from regulating plastic bag use appeared after the registration of the American Progressive Bag Alliance as a lobbyist in the state.

A review of Wisconsin lobby disclosures uncovered that the APBA lobbied in favor of the bill in both the Wisconsin Assembly and the Senate. Furthermore, that the APBA itself introduced the bill topic to the legislature in the first place.

The two bills are nearly identical in language and structure. The text of each bill, stripped of legislative formatting, is presented for your interpretation.

2015 Wisconsin Assembly Bill 730

Section 1. In this section:

(a) “Auxiliary container” means a bag, cup, bottle, or other packaging that is designed to be reusable or single-use; that is made of cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, corrugated material, aluminum, glass, postconsumer recycled material, or similar material or substrates, including coated, laminated, or multi-layer substrates; and that is designed for transporting or protecting merchandise, food, or beverages from a food service or retail facility.

(b) “Political subdivision” means a city, village, town, or county.

(2) No political subdivision may do any of the following: Enact or enforce an ordinance or adopt or enforce a resolution regulating the use, disposition, or sale of auxiliary containers. Prohibit or restrict auxiliary containers. Impose a fee, charge, or surcharge on auxiliary containers.

(3) (a) This section does not limit the authority of a political subdivision in operating a curbside recycling or commercial recycling program or in designating a recycling location.

(b) Subsection (2) (b) and (c) does not apply to the use of auxiliary containers on a property owned by the political subdivision.

2016 Michigan Senate Bill 0853

Sec. 1. As used in this act:

(a) “Auxiliary container” means a bag, cup, bottle, or other packaging, whether reusable or single-use, that meets both of the following requirements: Is made of cloth, paper, plastic, cardboard, corrugated material, aluminum, glass, postconsumer recycled material, or similar material or substrates, including coated, laminated, or multilayer substrates. Is designed for transporting, consuming, or protecting merchandise, food, or beverages from or at a food service or retail facility.

(b) “Local unit of government” means a county, township, city, or village.

Sec. 2. Subject to section 3, a local unit of government shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance that does any of the following: Regulates the use, disposition, or sale of auxiliary containers. Prohibits or restricts auxiliary containers. Imposes a fee, charge, or tax on auxiliary containers.

Sec. 3. (1) Section 2 shall not be construed to prohibit or restrict any of the following: a curbside recycling program. A designated residential or commercial recycling location. A commercial recycling program.

(2) Section 2 does not apply to any of the following:

(a) An ordinance that prohibits littering, as described in section 8902 of the natural resources and environmental protection act, 1994 PA 451, MCL 324.8902.

(b) The use of auxiliary containers on property owned by a local unit of government.

 

Legislation concerning plastic bags is tracked by several plastic industry projects including Bag the Ban, which is operated by one of the leading manufacturers of retail plastic bags and produce roll bags, Novolex. The company publicizes its support of both APBA and the Plastics Industry Association (formerly Society of the Plastic Industry). Their Bag the Ban initiative “was developed in response to proposed laws that would ban or tax grocery bags”.

A search of website domain records reveals that Novolex’s Bag the Ban campaign is run by Chicago public relations giant, Edelman PR.

Records indicate that the APBA hired Lansing lobbying firm Kandler Reed Khoury & Muchmore to act on their behalf in Michigan. Partner Deb Muchmore is notable for her recent work as spokesperson for embattled bottling company, Nestle, which seeks to increase its groundwater withdrawals in Michigan by 167%. She is also married to Governor Rick Snyder’s Chief of Staff.

 

 

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