Legislative loopholes

Auntie Ruth is green to the eco scene. Read up each week as she weeds through the dirt and unearths new gems of environmental knowledge.

Auntie Ruth is not fond of the hallowed American tradition of bagging a load of groceries in crinkly plastic, toting it home and tossing the bag in the trash. But a piece of legislation aimed at alleviating plastic-bag waste was thrown out by the Assembly committee earlier this month. Assembly Bill 2058 would have placed a consumer tax of 25 cents on all plastic checkout bags dispersed at California supermarkets. Funds produced by the tax would’ve gone to litter prevention and cleanup and reducing the production of plastic carryout bags. The bill would have allowed cities and towns to implement additional taxes and fees on plastic grocery bags, currently prohibited by state law. But the bill failed to address the problem of clear plastic produce bags; nor did it tax paper shopping bags. But a later version of the bill—now Assembly Bill 2769—includes a 25 cent tax on plastic and paper bags. The bill is currently under review by the Senate.

Speaking of legislation, a little bird called Ruth to complain about Assembly Bill 1879, a consumer’s right-to-know bill that would grant authority to the Department of Toxic Substances Control to regulate chemicals used in household products. Although supported by the Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund and other enviro groups—not to mention segments of the chemical industry—environmental-justice advocates oppose the bill, arguing it’s not strong enough. They reference one specific line that protects “information submitted to the department that is claimed to be a trade secret.” The advocates worry this trade-secrecy loophole will easily allow for the inclusion of harmful ingredients in consumer products (a.k.a. business as usual).

If you’re like Auntie Ruth, you’ve probably lost your share of USB drives and worry about contributing to e-waste. Hoshino, a Hong Kong-based company, has developed a USB drive made out of corn. The versatile vegetable is turned into lactic acid and transformed into polyactide—a biodegradable substance. The “products can be degraded to carbon dioxide and water by microorganisms in the soil after use and do no harm to the environment,” claims the company’s Web site. But critics argue the device—not yet available to the public—requires heat processing at a special facility to biodegrade, which is not so eco-friendly.