Hannah Doress ’88 joins Leading CA Environmental Groups to Return Thousands of Plastic Bags to Hartsville, SC and Protest Interference in California’s Election

Hannah Doress ’88 writes in about her time spent as Campaign Manager for #TakeBackYourToxicTrash in South Carolina to protest a company, Novolex, that is trying to overturn environmental protections and continue polluting the environment with plastics:

Watch Hannah Doress ’88 talking about how toxic plastic pollution gets into our food supply and poses a risk to our children


California environmental organizations Save The Bay (Paul Kumar ’84 is Political Director) and Clean Water Action travelled to Hartsville, South Carolina on October 5 and unfurled a 30-foot banner outside the headquarters of Novolex, the world’s largest manufacturer of single-use plastic bags, to ask for a meeting with Novolex chief executive Stan Bikulege. The groups made the “house call” to demand that Novolex cease its efforts to defeat Prop. 67 on California’s November ballot, which voters must pass to uphold the state’s groundbreaking ban on single-use plastic bags that litter our landscapes, foul our waterways and harm our wildlife.

Novolex is the biggest spender among the out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers that have put more than $6 million into their attempt to overturn California’s ban on single-use plastic bags, according to the latest figures issued by Secretary of State Alex Padilla.

Companies including South Carolina-based Novolex, Texas-based Suberbag Corp., and New Jersey-based Formosa Plastics have formed a California ballot initiative committee deceptively called The American Progressive Bag Alliance to coordinate their efforts to overturn bag-ban legislation, SB 270, which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014.

The industry funded the signature drive to put SB 270 on hold and place it before voters as Prop. 67, and is now working to defeat it. The industry also placed a competing measure, Prop. 65, on the ballot to confuse voters.

California’s state-wide law follows more than 150 local bag bans in the state, and the American Progressive Bag Alliance has also paid Washington, D.C.-based lobby group the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push for preemptive bans on local bag bans in Georgia, South Carolina, Idaho, and Wisconsin.

Children's drawing of wildlife.

Children’s drawing of wildlife.

“We gathered 50,000 signatures from our supporters in California, asking Novolex to keep its dirty out-of-state money out of our politics, and we wanted to present them to Mr. Bikulege and ask him to withdraw his financial backing for overturning the ban,” said Matt Davis with Clean Water Action, speaking in Hartsville, SC. “We don’t like that Mr. Bikulege and his friends are hiding behind D.C.-based front groups as they profit from killing California’s wildlife, but he won’t even meet with Californians to hear our point of view.”

Novolex representatives said Bikulege was unavailable, but the environmentalists were able to speak briefly with the company’s vice president for sustainability, Mark Daniels. Daniels refused to accept the Californians’ petition or to reconsider the company’s strategy of attacking California’s environmental protections.

Campaigners unload toxic trash outside Novolex HQ.

Campaigners unload toxic trash outside Novolex HQ.

The environmentalists then unloaded thousands of plastic bags collected from California shorelines, waterways, and households, and displayed childrens’ drawings of wildlife threatened by plastic bags.

“We’re asking Novolex to take back some of the toxic trash they generate here in California, and to stop undermining California’s environmental protections,” said Cyril Manning with Save The Bay, speaking in Hartsville, SC.

“Californians are tired of out of state companies trying to influence our elections and despoil our environment. We will vote Yes on Prop. 67 to uphold the country’s first statewide ban on plastic bags, and vote No on Prop. 65, the industry’s deceptive attempt to undermine our state’s bag ban,” said Manning.

Inspired by the efforts of the California campaign groups, Rep. James E. Smith Jr. (D-Richland County) has now pledged to introduce a statewide bag ban bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives, modelled after California’s law.

Rep. Smith said: “This demonstration has inspired me to make South Carolina better by introducing a single-use plastic bag ban here. Our state’s businesses know better than to chase short-term profits at the expense of the environment.”

Several local Sierra Club leaders provided on-the-ground support for the protest, and local environmental leaders from the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, South Carolina Sierra Club, 5 Gyres Institute, Savannah Riverkeeper, and Charleston Waterkeeper joined California conservationists and added their voices demanding Novolex to stop meddling in west coast politics, thwarting South Carolina efforts to protect the environment, and jeopardizing important conservation legislation in communities all over the country.

Some highlights of the protest: 

  • New campaign donation numbers indicate that Novolex is the leading contributor, and together with other plastic bag companies, they are pouring over $6 million into California to permanently beat back the single use bag ban enacted in 2014. The bill was never implemented due to their interference.
  • Thousands of used single-use plastic bags from California were collected, shipped and unloaded from a truck with a push broom to the sidewalk outside Novolex corporate HQ (video)
  • South Carolina’s ranking Democrat State Rep. James Smith said: “This demonstration has inspired me to make South Carolina better by introducing a single-use plastic bag ban here. Our state’s businesses know better than to chase short-term profits at the expense of the environment.”

To learn more about the campaign, search #TakeBackYourToxicTrash on Twitter and Facebook. Learn more about Hannah Doress Events