With the new plastic bag ban in mind, Kim Vostermans, left, and Nevine Abdel-Malek both chose to bring their owns bags to shop at Santana Row. (Photo by Jessica Shirley-Donnelly)
“We’re supposed to be the corporate bullies who lie and deny, and they’re whiter than snow and they would never tell a lie and never make up any statistics,” Joseph says. “That’s the problem—anything they say, the congregation has to say, ‘Amen!’ Anything we say, it mustn’t be true because we’re saying it. But that’s the way it is on the left. By the way, I’m a Democrat.”
Joseph’s arguments against plastic bag bans are passionate and thorough. He’s done this before, pushing back against a growing number of cities across the country considering bans. Santa Cruz County is considering scaling back its ban to allow restaurants to distribute single-use bags for take-out customers, which is how San Jose’s ban is structured. A threatened lawsuit from Joseph inspired the change of heart.
“The reason I’m doing this is because I consider myself the ultimate environmentalist,” he says. “You cannot make environmental policy based on lies. If we environmentalists are not true, we’re not honest, what good are we?”
But the logic of plastics industry advocates starts to wear thin when one wonders how to argue that reusable bags are worse for the environment than single-use plastic and paper bags.
“Reusable bags don’t come from Heaven,” Joseph says. “Nearly all the reusable bags that are replacing the plastic bags come from China. The plastic bags we use in America, 85 percent are made in America.”
And then: “The problem with people reusing reusable bags, they’re so large you can’t really carry them around everywhere.”
According to city officials in San Jose, not only are businesses overwhelmingly complying with the plastic bag ban, customer complaints have also been nearly non-existent.
Jennifer Garnett, a spokesperson for the city’s Environmental Services department, says more than 5,000 retailers were sent returnable certificates detailing the ordinance, which forbids handled plastic bags and forces stores to charge a 10 cent fee for paper bags. (The fee goes up to 25 cents in 2014.) About a third of those businesses responded by returning the certificates and self-registering, Garnett says, and since the ban went into effect, only eight citizen complaints have been voiced to the city about stores not abiding by the ban.
The domino effect continues to take shape. Sunnyvale is currently crafting its own ordinance, made easier by the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that San Jose conducted. Melinda Hamilton, Sunnyvale’s former mayor, sent a letter thanking the city for its guidance. Milpitas took its own steps in October of last year, and Monterey is now on its way to banning single-use plastic bags as well. The hope at San Jose’s City Hall is that the rest of the county is on its way to joining the ban, if for no other reason than to avoid more Valley Fair Mall situations.
“We want to push it countywide,” Chu says, “so we don’t have people confused if they live in San Jose and they cross the street and there are different rules governing them.”