August 15, 2012

The day Sara Cannon spent ten minutes on Google to truth-bomb the 'Save the Plastic Bag Coalition'

Guest blog post by ocean advocate, writer, and truth-bomber Sara Cannon

The other day I was doing what I typically do on any weeknight: be productive (and by “productive,” I mean avoiding being productive by aimlessly perusing the internet).  Anyone who has spent more than five minutes online knows there is no shortage of things that will motivate you to spontaneously bang your head against the wall.   

This video, unfortunately, is no exception, and should come with a warning label.
San Francisco attorney Stephen Joseph is leading a lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of plastic bag manufacturers against the cities of San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Carpenteria, and Marin County in an attempt to repeal their plastic bag bans. I think he’s right up there with evil attorney John Milton from the Devil’s Advocate.  I mean, check out some of the things he says (cited below), all of which are easily refutable.  They’re so obviously (almost laughably) wrong, it’s hard to even take them seriously. 

      Unfortunately, while he actually hasn’t won any lawsuits to block plastic bag bans, the threat of the money it takes for a municipality to go through a lengthy court battle has scared some cities away from enacting bans of their own (or, as in Santa Cruz, has caused them to water the bans down by taking certain provisions out).  These lawsuits are a waste of tens of thousands of Taxpayer’s dollars, and by preventing more cities from enacting bans and watering down existing bans, they are actively contributing to the degradation of the environment in those cities. I only have one nice thing to say about Mr. Joseph:  dude deserves an Oscar for his acting skills.  There’s no way anyone who actually passed the Bar Exam could believe the crap that he’s spewing.   

     Please, allow me to demonstrate:

1. He says there is no evidence that plastic bags harm wildlife.  I quote, “How come after having plastic bags in circulation since the 1970’s, we have 4, 5 or 6 photographs at most worldwide” (emphasis mine).  I’ve taken more photos of plastic bags harming wildlife than that personally, in less than a year.  If Mr. Joseph could be bothered to pull his head out of the sand and spend five minutes or so online, he’d find ample evidence to disprove his claim.  If you do a quick Google image search for “Plastic Bags Harm Wildlife”, there are about 126,000 results.  Mr. Joseph, hasn’t anyone told you that a good attorney does research?  If you’re going to make stuff up, you should at least make it plausible.  I’m almost embarrassed for you.  Almost.

2. He claims the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” is a hoax.  Ironically, in the news clip, Mr. Joseph challenges believers to do the exact thing he failed to do about his last claim:  spend five minutes online searching for a picture.  Everyone knows the Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t actually a solid mass of trash the size of Texas (no one ever claimed that it was); we’re not in Waterworld (although if folks like Mr. Joseph have their way, we’ll get there).  When I was interning at SOS, I did presentations for elementary school children who had a better understanding of the gyres than this guy.  I will explain this in terms that even someone so purposely dense should be able to understand:  In every ocean, there is at least one huge circular ocean current (the Pacific and Atlantic both have two).  These are called gyres.  These circular currents force trash to accumulate in their centers.  The Great Pacific Garbage Patch refers to the trash that has built up in the center of the North Pacific Gyre.  (For the record, trash accumulates in all the gyres, not just that one.)  You can’t see the garbage in satellite images because it’s primarily made up of suspended particulates (little grains of plastic) that float in the upper water column.  It’s not like you can just go out there and walk across the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – Although, maybe Mr. Joseph should try it.  However, just because you can’t see it from space doesn’t mean it’s not there.  You also can’t see the crushing amount of student loan debt I’m in, but trust me, it exists.  That said, you actually can see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch… just not from space.  I just spent another few seconds typing in “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” into Google Images, and I got 262,000 results.  That’s a heck of a lot for something that doesn’t exist.  As an added bonus, there are even MORE pictures of wildlife being harmed by plastic mixed in there.  That should make Mr. Joseph happy.  There are even videos of people sailing through the garbage patch.  Mr. Joseph, before you challenge people to do something that you think will prove your case, you might want to make sure it actually doesn’t disprove it.  Whoops, indeed.

3. He seems to think that President Obama being given a plastic bag at a dim sum restaurant in San Francisco means something.  “When President Obama came to San Francisco, he was given plastic bags for his dim sum.  Why?  Because that stuff’s hot.”  Um, what?  You can put hot stuff in paper bags, too.  Or is he trying to say that plastic bags are hot, as in cool?  This guy wouldn’t know cool if it punched him in the face.  I don’t get it.

4. He sued San Francisco for its litter problem in the year 2000, saying: “I find it fascinating when people walk down the street and they see a plastic bag.  They don’t notice the 100’s of cigarette butts, the cans, the bottles, the paper bags.”  Obviously, there’s actually a pretty good explanation for the focus on plastic bags.  As someone who sued the city for their trash problem, I have no doubt Mr. Joseph more informed than he lets on (he knows better).  While cigarette butts are an ugly (and gross) problem, they take up to 7 years maximum to degrade.  Paper bags take up to two weeks.  Bottles and cans are recyclable, and because you can turn them in for cash, there are way less of them on the ground than plastic bags.  Plus, they’re heavy; cans and bottles don’t just blow away like plastic bags do. (They’re like the balloons of the underworld.)  Now, plastic bags, unlike cans and bottles, are a hassle to recycle.  You can’t just stick them in your recycling bin with your cans and bottles; depending on the rules of where you live, you have to bundle them a very specific way, and then take them to the recycling center yourself in bulk, or return them to your local supermarket.  You can’t often reuse them for anything other than picking up after your dog because the manufacturers have made them so cheaply (probably in an effort to save cash so they can pay their expensive lawyers) that the bags rip really easily.  Now, when your crappy plastic bag inevitably blows away accidentally, guess how long it takes to decompose?   The answer is we don’t know, because the first bags that were put into circulation in the 1970’s are still here.  It’s been estimated it will take up to 1,000 years.  More conservative estimates say it will take up to 500 years.  For each bag.  Yet, here we are, still making them, with people like Mr. Joseph fighting to keep them in circulation.  

Says Stephen Joseph, “We are about getting the truth out and making sure that any ban of plastic bags is based on facts.”  

      It appears that Mr. Joseph just got truth-bombed.  How you do like them apples?  

     By Sara Cannon 


  1. Sarah Cannon, I'm Stiv from 5 Gyres and I think you're awesome. This is fabulous, want to intern for us? :)

    Cheers to Laura and team for finding you. Keep kicking butt at SOS.

  2. Great post Sara!! Rock on!! I hope NJ follow suit and bans single use plastic bags or at least creates a fee for them to deter their use.

  3. Stephen Joseph - no conscience and no dignity. That's what happens when plastic and oil companies buy your soul. No thanks!

  4. I know your gyres are in the ocean, but I saw a very sad situation the other day on our land gyre. I was driving along hwy 101 in northern California, looked to the left, and saw a large,beautiful, fit, many pointed bull elk , running pannicked by a large black plastic bag stuck on his antlers. The whites of his eyes were showing, he had pannicked his herd, they were running scared. I pulled over and watched the scene. The park rangers gathered, the bull elk trapped himself against a brush hedge and could go no further.The park rangers were going to wait for a wildlife biologist to tranquilize the animal and help it.Good ending, however the toll it took on this bull elk and its herd is not a good one, one of his herd hurt its leg in the panic and was limping badly.....all this because of a carless person with a plastic garbage bag. Please practice no all....just try....please.....

  5. Cigarette butts aren't completely biodegradable either! The filters are made of plastic.


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