News

Michigan plastics firm behind PA bag protest

Dart Container Corporation representative urged businesses to sign on

Palo Alto's small business owners did not organize a campaign to oppose the city's anticipated plastic carryout bag ban, the Weekly has learned.

Instead, the 35-plus form letters opposing the ban — which were submitted to the City Clerk's office March 14 — were sponsored by Dart Container Corporation, a Michigan-based manufacturer of "single-use products" for food service.

According to its Web site, Dart is the world's largest producer of foam cups.

"We don't think there's a full understanding of what we believe the facts to be," Dart spokesman Jim Lammers said Thursday. He confirmed his company had sponsored the letter campaign, a tactic it has used in other communities considering bans.

"The issues surrounding the ban are much more nuanced and complicated than I think people realize and the stated goals to be achieved by these bans are not going to be realized by selecting as the target of the ban foam products," Lammers said.

The form letter, copied and signed by several dozen merchants, does not indicate it stems from Dart.

In fact, many employees who signed the opposition letters barely remembered doing so.

Ironically, such small merchants wouldn't even be affected by a city-proposed plastic-bag ban, according to Phil Bobel, the city's environmental-compliance manager. It would only affect large groceries and pharmacies.

Some local employees who signed the letter genuinely said they believe plastic bags or foam containers are critical to their businesses. Others said they had limited information and just signed because they were asked to by the Dart representative, a woman who visited restaurants and food stores on California Avenue, at Stanford Shopping Center, at Town & Country Village and along University Avenue in early March.

A man also brought the letter to hotels along El Camino Real.

It is addressed to the City Council and begins: "I AM AGAINST A BAN ON POLYSTYRENE FOODSERVICE CONTAINERS AND PLASTIC BAGS."

Mladen Lucich, a manager at Michael's Gelato & Café, and James Choi, a manager at Teuscher Palo Alto, said the woman who asked them to sign was from Dart Container.

"I'm sure that's the company," Lucich said.

He said he signed "to be nice to her."

Michael's Gelato & Café on University Avenue, a family business, will be able to adjust to whatever rule the city sets, he said.

Choi said he was told the ban would affect the packages for Teuscher's chocolates.

"Until she brought this up, I had on idea what was going on," Choi said. "When they come to us with a one-sided case, you sign it."

One signee from a downtown restaurant, who asked to remain anonymous, said he didn't have strong feelings about a ban on plastic bags of polystyrene containers.

"But she asked me a couple times, so I said, 'Sure.'"

A manager at a local hotel, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: "I signed something about plastic cups, but I can't remember. … We use plastic cups, that's why I signed it."

David King, manager of Su Hong Eatery, confirmed he had signed the letter.

"I just thought that was what the city wanted. I don't really care," he said.

Jugal Shah, who works at the front desk at Palo Alto's Comfort Inn, said a man told him he wouldn't be able to use cups for coffee.

"He was, like, 'It's going to ruin my business,'" Shah said.

Other signees do want to keep plastic bags and Styrofoam containers around.

"Ninety-nine percent of people come in wanting bags," Spot A Pizza Place Manager Vu Tran said. "I don't see why not give them bags. It's convenient. How are you going to hold four sodas if you don't have a bag?"

The Polish Deli's founder Martin Klosek said that many of his customers already bring their own bags but that eliminating plastic bags entirely would be expensive.

"I don't want to pay more money for this," Klosek said.

Eliminating Styrofoam would also be tough for Jamba Juice, Shift Supervisor Chris Nguyen said.

In addition to Dart Container, the city has also received letters of opposition from the American Chemistry Council and the California Restaurant Association, which both denied initiating the letter drive.

The powerful plastic and container industry has mobilized against a movement among local governments to ban their products. Oakland, which banned plastic bags in grocery stores and other large retailers, even faces a lawsuit.

Palo Alto began working on a ban as part of its "zero waste" initiative, an attempt to slash the amount of material headed to the landfill, said Phil Bobel, the city's environmental compliance manager.

But plastic is also energy intensive, petroleum-based and pollutes waterways, even accumulating in a massive clump in the Pacific, threatening fish and other ocean dwellers, Bobel said.

The city is currently conducting a voluntary BYOBag campaign to encourage shoppers to carry purchases in their own, reusable bags.

But at its April 28 meeting, the council will consider a plastic-bag ban, potentially phased in over six months, that would target only carry-out bags at the city's 12 largest groceries and pharmacies.

Eventually, however, Bobel said the city would like to curb the use of Styrofoam containers and other take-out plastic bags, which are commonly spotted as litter.

The American Chemistry Council and other industry groups say that the key to eliminating litter is to boost recycling.

"We think recycling is the answer," American Chemistry Council Director of State Affairs Tim Shestek said.

Plastic bags are "very recyclable and the demand for the material is exceeding the available supply," he said.

A city staff report on the issue states that plastic bag recycling rates are low, despite years of availability and that the bags can clog recyling machinery.

Shestek acknowledged that bags are recycled less frequently than some other materials. He encourages customers to return plastic bags to stores, where the material can be kept clean and pure.

Shestek said the Chemistry Council has been working on "recruiting and involving" local businesses but did not sponsor the recent letter campaign.

Amalia Chamorro, a spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association, said she had heard the campaign was homegrown.

"We did not initiate the petitions, but we definitely support the restaurants," she said.

Lammers said Dart does not have any additional initiatives currently planned for Palo Alto. A family-owned business, Dart Container has revenues topping $1 billion and has a manufacturing facility in Lodi.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jody
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 27, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Great reporting and research by The Weekly!

I have found that many restaurants welcome customers that bring along their own re-useable plastic containers and bags when they order take out.

We have never had a problem with this. In fact, most restaurant owners seemed to appreciate this when we began doing this years ago.

It is actually a cost savings to restaurants and stores, since the purchase of disposable products add additional costs to their businesses.

Additionally, the cost of paper bags and plastics is enormous for large chain supermarkets.

I believe that this is a positive for both consumers, business, and our environment.

Thanks for this great story!



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Destroying Consumerism--One Day At A Time
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2008 at 8:24 pm

Why stop at banning plastic bags? Why not ban selling (or owning) anything made of plastic?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 27, 2008 at 8:33 pm

So a company is helping organize opposition to a proposal to put them out of business - Who'da thunk it?
Like so many other misdirections of an incompetent administration, they follow this silly zero waste prpogram, assuming that the time and effort of the individual is not worthy of consideration.
If they really want to make a saving, eliminate the water piped to every house, install one hose bibb at every street corner and let everyone carry their needs home in buckets.
While we are at it, make the newspapers collect the papers after we are finished with them, erase the ink and re-use the paper.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sustainability Means Going Digital
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 27, 2008 at 9:24 pm

> While we are at it, make the newspapers collect the
> papers after we are finished with them, erase the
> ink and re-use the paper.

Suggest that they publish on-line--particularly in small towns like this one. If they don't, then there should be a $1.00 recycling tax (or fee) imposed to help them get motivated to "do the right thing".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by For Walter
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 27, 2008 at 11:14 pm

Walter,

I would suggest that you read the following article:

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2008 at 5:11 am

And did you read the subsequent admission that the effects of the garbage were overestimated by an order of magnitude or so? Another false alarm.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Lois
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2008 at 5:27 am

WOW! obviously Dart Container Corporation has no clue who they are dealing with here!!! Well done PA Weekly!!! We'll show 'em!!! Dart Container may wished they stayed in Michigan.

However, they may have some friends here amongst Stanford students who objected to low flow shower heads.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 28, 2008 at 7:48 am

I suggest it is wise not to underestimate Dart.

Dart Container Corporation is likely still held by the Dart family, long based in Sarasota, Florida.

The Darts are a formidable force, not to be taken lightly, I believe.

In 1993, the Darts tussled with Brazil -- the country, that is -- during a proposed debt restructuring; over time, the Darts bought up -- at prevailing prices -- debt with a face value of $1.4 billion; when Brazil attempted to restructure the debt, the Darts held out for better terms.

Both the NY Times and Wall Street Journal covered the story at the time.

If the Darts do not blink with dealing with the country of Brazil, then I doubt the Darts will blink here. If the Darts are able to purchase debt of a single issuer with a face value of $1.4 billion, then I doubt the Darts will back away quickly here.

Kudos to the Weekly for the story.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2008 at 12:06 pm

Restructure the debt? Isn't that a fancy way of saying renege? And holding out for better terms - horrors.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by recycling enthusiast
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 28, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Instead of banning, which will just trade one litter for another, why not take the initiative and recycle the bags and foam products? Going to a plastic lined paper cup that is not recyclable just doesn't make sense. Actually putting a program into effect for the city of Palo Alto that takes trash out of the waste stream is what would be the best option for our city. Bans don't work.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by julie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 28, 2008 at 4:00 pm



Kittens Chase 200-Pound Bear Up Tree Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by joyce
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 28, 2008 at 11:36 pm

One thing I didn't realize is that the recycling bins for plastic grocery bags can also be used to recycle plastic bread bags, dry cleaning bags, etc.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by NO RECOURSE
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 29, 2008 at 5:32 am

We use plastic grocery bags to line garbage containers. These plastic bags along with the garbage end up in the city dump.
So I am told that this is not enough - I must recycle this plastic bag ????
HOW THE HECK DO I DO THAT !!!!
BAN MCDONALD PLASTIC TOYS - WHY SEND GOOD MONEY TO CHINA FOR THIS ??? THESE TOYS ARE MADE IN CHINA.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 29, 2008 at 4:20 pm

The so-called land fill shortage is another of those made panics. Establish Irrational standards, then panic when they cannot be met. If it takes 40 years for a diaper to biodegrade, so what? How long does it take for a stone to biodegrade? The biggest garbage mistake the Bay Area made was turning down the plan to haul garbage on rails to the Black Rock Desert for burial. About a thousand years capacity, then re-use the old areas again.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by No Excuse
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 30, 2008 at 12:27 pm

RECOURSE: "We use plastic grocery bags to line garbage containers. These plastic bags along with the garbage end up in the city dump". I used plastic bags, then I switched over to paper sacks - you can too!! The plastic bags I bundle together and leave off at Safeway.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Haul-It-Away
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2008 at 3:28 pm

> The biggest garbage mistake the Bay Area made was turning down
> the plan to haul garbage on rails to the Black Rock Desert for burial.

When was this plan proposed. This is right on the money. The US is almost all empty space. Using a little of it for urban land fills is an excellent idea .. Compressing the garbage and then hauling it out by rail would solve a lot of problems locally that we don't need.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Richard
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 31, 2008 at 9:57 pm

Making plastic bags that get thrown in the landfill is a waste of valuable petroleum. Compostable bags can be made from other raw materials that are renewable. This eliminates the long lifetime problem at the landfill and saves petroleum for other uses. As oil gets more expensive we will see more of these products. For now, do a search on "BioBag".


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Euro Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2008 at 6:13 am

Just got back from Spring Break in Europe. The bags from Supermarkets are being touted as biodegradable and should start breaking down within a year. They are also recommended as garbage bin liners rather than using fresh bags bought specially for the job.

If we are trying to get bags out of creeks and other places were litter congregates, then trying to replace them is a good idea. However, the idea of re-using the bags for garbage collection and other uses is something we are not doing.

They have started the same idea of recycling plastic bags at supermarkets as they do here, but they are also cutting down on the amount of packing that comes with many items, from clothes to food to other incidentals.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Woodside
on Apr 1, 2008 at 2:52 pm

Go Palo Alto Weekly! The plastics industry is constantly confusing consumers by touting recycling when they are really fighting bans & taxes. Plastic bags don't recyle well because there is vey little plastic in them. Hard, dense plastic (like orange juice containers) recycle best. Bringing your own bag is so easy and it can be fun! Check out www.olivesmart.com because we can all live smart!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Anne
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2008 at 3:08 pm

Euro Parent: Sorry, but we can do better than Europe. Plastic bags should not be used as garbage bin liners. If you absolutely must line your garbage bin, use brown paper bags; they are more expensive but they are biodegradable.

Start using tea leaves, ground coffee and vegetable waste as fertilizer and bury them in your backyard.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by GOD SAYS RECYCLE !!!!!
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 2, 2008 at 1:59 am

PLEASE WALK TO WORK. IT SAVES THE ENVIROMENT.
(however screws the economy - who cares!!!!!!)

GO LIVE IN CHINA OR INDIA and enjoy life.





 +   Like this comment
Posted by richatd
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 14, 2008 at 11:35 am

dart sucks


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jody
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 14, 2008 at 3:30 pm


Many municipalities such as San Francisco, have banned the use of plastic bags.

Palo Alto should follow the lead of countries like the Ireland,
China, Bangladesh, South Africa, Taiwan, Uganda, and most recently, Australia.

Australia
Web Link

China, Uganda, and South Africa

Web Link

Bangladesh banned bags since they were clogging drains and exacerbating their flooding problems.
Shoppers have been using jute or cloth bags.

Last year, San Francisco, became the first U.S. city to outlaw plastic checkout bags at supermarkets.

Web Link

Ireland began taxing stores in 2002 (plastax). This resulted in a 90% reduction of their use.

Taiwan is now prohibiting not only plastic bags, but also disposable plastic plates, cups and cutlery used by fast food places.
They report that there has been a 70% reduction in the use of plastic bags, and a 25% cut in landfill waste.



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