Progressive Bag Alliance
This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
The Progressive Bag Alliance (whose name was later changed to the Progressive Bag Affiliates, or PBA) was founded in 2005. Membership includes the four largest plastic bag manufacturers in America.  Progressive Bag Affiliates use legal threats and lobbying strategies to slow, stop or weaken ordinances banning plastic grocery bags. The group carries out these activities while advocating recycling plastic shopping bags as an alternative to banning the bags. In March 2008, the Progressive Bag Alliance's Web site started redirecting visitors to American Chemistry Council Web site, and in early 2008 PBA changed its name to "Progressive Bag Affiliates." Much of the information that used to be available on its former web site, like past newsletters that alerted supporters about municipalities considering bag bans, has disappeared.
In April, 2009, Shari Jackson of the American Chemistry Council acted as the spokesperson for Progressive Bag Affiliates. She testified in opposition to a proposal to tax plastic bags to help reduce a crippling amount of plastic bag litter clogging the Anacostia River in the District of Columbia. The D.C. Department of the Environment had produced a report saying 50% of the trash clogging the river was plastic bags. The trash was clogging the D.C. sewer system and harming animals around the river.
Recently, a growing number of municipalities, states and countries have been enacting legislation banning plastic bags as a way to cut plastic bag pollution in cities, landfills and waterways. The effort to reduce the use of plastic bags has even become chic, as reusable bags created by fashion designer Anya Hindmarch and emblazoned with the slogan, "I am not a plastic bag" have been selling out as fast as they are made.
While PBA does not offer a street address on its Web site, its previously-available newsletters bore the address "PBA c/o Edelman, 1500 Broadway, New York, NY 10036", indicating PBA is set up and operated by the Daniel J. Edelman, Inc., a large independent public relations firm. A January 2008 press release from Progressive Bag Affiliates contains a contact email for firstname.lastname@example.org, indicating Edelman is still operating PBA despite the name change from "Progressive Bag Alliance" to to "Progressive Bag Affiliates."
Strategies and tactics
The Progressive Bag Alliance uses a number of public relations strategies to head off plastic bag bans that were first employed by the Tobacco industry to head off smoking bans, specifically:
1) Shifting the focus of the discussion and making possible solutions appear limited: The PBA portrays laws banning plastic shopping bags as unreasonably limiting consumer choice. In its statements and press releases, it limits the scope of discussion to solely an issue of plastic versus paper bags, presenting paper bags as the only viable alternative to plastic bags, and saying paper uses more environmental resources to produce. PBA carefully avoids mentioning or raising discussion of the use of cloth, nylon or other types of non-disposable bags. PBA also works to shift the focus off of plastic bags and onto human behavior as the central problem, saying "While care for the environment is critical, solutions that consider consumer lifestyle and freedom of choice are essential to encourage long-lasting behavioral change."PBA uses these tactics while opposing measures, like deposits or bag taxes, that are more likely to alter peoples' behavior towards use of disposable bags.
2) Promoting weaker measures and delaying more effective legislation: The Progressive Bag Alliance backed a weak California recycling bill, AB 2449, passed in 2007, which required supermarkets, pharmacies and other major retail outlets of over 10,000 square feet and that have over $2 million or more in annual sales to provide bins where customers can recycle their plastic grocery bags. However, the law does not provide incentives for people to change their behavior regarding plastic bags; it does not mandate that consumers recycle their bags, nor does it require a deposit on bags or provide other incentive to consumers to recycle them. In April, 2008, PBA and the American Chemistry Council successfully lobbied a Pennsylvania legislator to amend a bill banning the use of non-recyclable bags and convincing her to change it instead into a weaker measure that only requires retailers to have at-store recycling programs for plastic bags.
PBA seems to advance such weak mandatory recycling proposals as a way to head off more stringent proposals. In July, 2007 the PBA worked to derail a proposal in Annapolis, Maryland to ban plastic shopping bags. After a strict ban on plastic bags was proposed for virtually all Annapolis retail outlets to help protect the area's waterways and marine life, the city's Mayor, Ellen Moyer, introduced a revised version of the measure that largely avoided the issue of plastic bag litter and instead suggested further studies be conducted by an environmental review committee into using recyclable and reusable products rather than imposing a ban.
3) Suing cities that ban plastic bags, as a way to slow the spread of such legislation: The Plastic Bag Alliance is also a member of the Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling, a local front group that appeared in California shortly after cities in the San Francisco Bay area started passing ordinances banning plastic shopping bags. The Coalition brought a lawsuit against the small town of Fairfax, California, to stop its ban. The suit was effective in causing Fairfax to make ending use of plastic bags voluntary. 
Member companies of PBA
- Advance Polybag (sales offices in Chicago, Columbus, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New Orleans)
- Inteplast (Livingston, New Jersey)
- Superbag (Houston, Texas)
(Information taken from PBA's newsletters):
- American Chemistry Council (now appears to be operating PBA as "Progressive Bag Affiliates")
- The Society of Plastics Industry
- The Film and Bag Federation
- CFECA California Film Extruders & Converters Association
- The Food Marketing Institute
- Coalition to Support Plastic Bag Recycling
On a version of its website from August 2007, the board members of the PBA were listed as:
- Isaac Bazbaz, Chairman
- Bill Seanor, Treasurer, PBA
- Leon Farahnik, Hilex Poly
- Joe Chen, Inteplast
- Hank Nguyen, Advance Polybag
American Progressive Bag Alliance
Web site: http://www.plasticsindustry.org/apba
Matt Seaholm, Executive Director
American Progressive Bag Alliance
Articles and Resources
- K. Huus, "Battle of the Bags: How the plastics industry uses lobbying and legal threats to turn plastic bag prohibitions into voluntary recycling drives", MSNBC.com-Newsweek, March 13, 2008
- Plastic bag bans gaining momentum around the world, Kazinform Information Agency (Kazakhstan), April 7, 2008. Progressive Bag Affiliates says banning and taxing plastic bags is "not the right approach."
- Stuart Glascock, Los Angeles Times Seattle may dump throwaway bags, April 14, 2008, National section (Progressive Bag Affiliates advocates recycling as the best alternative to a 20 cent per bag "green fee.")
- Christy, Bring Me Up The Environment (blog)Fee to use plastic bags April 13, 2008 (PBA opposes 25 cent-per-bag levy by saying fee would increase use of paper bags; omits discussion of other bag options)
- Mark Albright, St. Petersburg (FL) Times Paper bags or plastics? Best choice isn't clear April 11, 2008 (Progressive Bag Affiliates advocates voluntary measures)
- KNX 1070 Radio (Los Angeles) Payment for Plastic (Progressive Bag Affiliates limits discussion of issue to paper or plastic)
- Teresa F. Lindeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Shopping bag choices moving beyond just paper or plastic April 22, 2008. (Progresive Bag Alliance and the American Chemistry Council successfully lobbied a Pennsylvania Democratic House Representative to amend her bill banning use of noncompostable plastic bags, and change it into a bill mandating retailers offer in-store recycling programs.)
- Marc Ramiriez, Seattle Times American Chemistry Council gives $500,000 to stop bag fee July 21, 2009. (American Chemistry Council/Progressive Bag Affiliates trying to stop Seattle's August 18 plastic bag fee Referendum.)
- Mike Verespej, Plastics News Global Group, PRW.com/Plastics & Rubber Weekly US Congress to consider bag tax and bottle deposit April 24, 2009. Last paragraph
- Kari Huss, MSNBC.com [http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23596727/ How plastics industry battles bans on its bags Lobbying, legal threats turn prohibitions into voluntary recycling drives] March 14, 2008
- Shari Wright, The Washington Informer Clean River Will Cost You April 23, 2009
- Reuters Progressive Bag Affiliates of the American Chemistry Council Applauds New York City Press release. January 9, 2008
- "Progressive Bag Alliance.com", Joker.com, accessed February 2008.
- Plastic Bag Alliance, "San Francisco Plastic Bag Ban to Commence - Progressive Bag Alliance Urges Consumers to Recycle Plastic Bags", Press release, November 17, 2007.
- P. Hecht, "Stemming tide of plastic bags: Nation's first mandatory recycling program for the pesky containers kicks in July 1", Sacramento Bee, June 12, 2007.
- Teresa F. Lindeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Shopping bag choices moving beyond just paper or plastic April 22, 2008
- Annapolis’ proposed plastic bag ban sparks controversy Pierce, C. The Baltimore Examiner. July 25, 2007
- C. Pierce, "Annapolis won't ditch plastic bags", The Baltimore Examiner, November 20, 2007.
- An Update on Proposed Plastic Bag Bans Plastics News, November 1, 2007
- Progressive Bag Alliance, "About PBA", August 11, 2007.
Related SourceWatch Articles
- Front groups
- American Chemistry Council
- Shari Jackson (lobbyist for Progressive Bag Affiliates)
- Tobacco industry public relations strategies
- Jessica Mason and Calvin Sloan, "Barring Plastic Bag Bans, another ALEC Law Takes Aim at Local Democracy," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, March 15, 2016.
- Progressive Bag Alliance's past newsletters (July to November, 2007 only, available in PDF format)
- Associated Press China's new revolution: War on plastic bags MSNBC/World News, World Environment. January 9, 2008
- Cawthorne A., Reuters Africa wages war on scourge of plastic bags August 20, 2007