Pulling Back the Curtain: American Progressive Bag Alliance



By Justin Fay

There’s an old saying in politics: “follow the money”. Here at the North Star Chapter, we try to do exactly that. So, between now and the end of the 2017 session of the Minnesota Legislature, we’ll be profiling a different interest group that is behind one or more bad attacks on our air and water every week here at the North Star Chapter Blog.

First Up: The American Progressive Bag Alliance

According to their website, the American Progressive Bag Alliance “proactively promotes product lines and leads numerous public policy initiatives that serve as the frontline defense against plastic bag bans and taxes nationwide.”  They’ve certainly had plenty of work to do in recent years, as local governments from coast to coast have adopted local ordinances creating bans or fees on the use of disposable plastic bags in their communities. 

Of course, there are plenty of good reasons for local governments to consider these actions. Plastic bags linger indefinitely in our environment, never decomposing but rather breaking down into smaller plastic pellets. They harm wildlife, clog drains, gum up recycling facilities, and blight the landscape. Moreover, their manufacture creates greenhouse gas emissions and pollutes our air and water. 

Minnesotans dispose of 77,000 tons of plastic bags each year according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. In response, communities around the state have begun to consider local responses to this growing environmental challenge. Minneapolis, for example, adopted an ordinance last year that is scheduled to take effect this coming June. That essentially means that the current legislative session is the last opportunity for the plastics industry to block implementation of a bag ban in Minnesota’s largest city.

Founded in 2005 and initially housed within the American Chemistry Council, the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA) has challenged plastic bag ordinances throughout the country, often through the use of state-level “pre-emption” bills that simply prohibit local governments from adopting their own ban or fee. The lobbying power behind these initiatives is significant – reflecting the deep pockets and broad reach of the plastics industry in the United States. 

The APBA is affiliated with the Plastics Industry Association, an industry trade group formerly known as Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI). The APBA was effectively transferred from the American Chemistry Council to SPI back in 2011; demonstration both of the impact being felt by “Big Plastic” from the proliferation of local bag bans and fees, and also of the very high level of coordination among the major power players within the plastics industry.

In recent months, the APBA led an attempt to block a statewide ban on plastic bags in California, which included generating more than $1.2 million in contributions from out of state plastics companies. The money doesn’t always work, however. This past fall, California voters rejected APBA’s ballot measure to overturn the statewide ban, which is now in effect. And just last week, deep-red South Carolina rejected an attempt to ban plastic bag ordinances in the state. Legislation to ban local bag ordinances in Minnesota, supported by APBA, is currently moving through the Minnesota Legislature.