Friday, November 30, 2007

Plastic Bag Politics

The City Council held a hearing yesterday on a bill, Intro 640, that would mandate the recycling of plastic bags in stores larger than 5,000 square feet. The Alliance is opposed to the bill as currently drafted and we made our objections known at the hearing. As the City Room blog pointed out: “The plastic bag recycling, aside from being a headache, will also impose some significant costs on the stores,” said Richard Lipsky of the Neighborhood Retail Alliance, one of the bill’s most vehement critics."

One of our biggest concerns is the apparent lack of concern at the council about the costs and obligations that are being foisted on local stores. The record-keeping responsibilities-the idea that store owners can easily manage to weigh and record the weights of the bags they collect-are impractical and, because of the city enforcement mechanisms, potentially costly as well.

And the idea that somehow all of this is good for the stores, that plastic bag recycling will become a "profit center," as someone from the Plastic Bag Alliance alleged, is too ludicrous to give any credence to. As Mitch Klein of Krasdale Foods pointed out at the hearing yesterday, this is going to cost independent supermarkets plenty-and there's nothing in the bill that gives the stores any relief, while the plastic bag manufacturers really have no fiscal exposure in all of this.

This factor was brought out in this morning's S.I. Advance story, where the paper indicated that one of the lobbyists that represents supplier interests is Councilman McMahon'e brother Tom: "The American Chemistry Council, a trade association, testified yesterday in favor of the bill. The council employs the Albany lobbying firm of Brown McMahon & Weinraub LLC, of which McMahon's brother, Thomas, is a principal. The lobbying firm has earned $18,000 this year for its efforts."

The councilman, for his part, said that there was really no conflict here: "The councilman said there is no conflict of interest because he favored the legislation before he knew of the involvement of his brother, who was not present yesterday. He also said he would publicly disclose the relationship prior to taking a vote, for which a date is not yet set."

The point, however, is that the bill doesn't place nearly enough obligations on the deep-pocketed bag manufacturers ant the chemical resin suppliers-the local stores who employ tens of thousands of folks and contribute millions to the local economy are literally left holding the bag. If that's true, and we believe it is, than the conflict becomes manifest.

This legislation needs a lot of work in order to make it both equitable and workable; and we hope that the Speaker will realize this and take an active role in insuring that the interests of store owners and their employees are looked after.