Stephen Joseph chooses plastic over paper.

A real plastic man.

The voice for the misunderstood option at supermarkets everywhere.

Joseph, counsel for a coalition of pro-plastic bag business owners, even has his own Web site: The group is fighting a trend seen throughout California cities to ban plastic bags.

San Francisco and Malibu have already banned single-use plastic bags from retail businesses, and the city of Santa Monica is looking to follow suit.

But Joseph, leading the plastic pushers, is threatening legal action against the city, asking that the city first prove the legitimacy of the ban’s effect on the environment.

Santa Monica’s desire to ban plastic bags appears to be a no-brainer, especially to Dean Kubani, the director of the Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and Environment.

“The problems we are seeing are environmental issues related to single-use bags,” Kubani said. “In Santa Monica, in particular, because they end up on the beaches and in the oceans. We’re a beach community and that hits us where we live.”

But Joseph’s group is demanding that the city evaluates the impact of the ban on the environment through an environmental impact report before passing the ordinance.

The coalition has already been granted motion for a preliminary injunction against the city of Manhattan Beach for a similar ordinance. The group has also filed formal objections to cities throughout California proposing anti-plastic bag ordinances.

So is the coalition simply a money-hungry, environmental villain?

“Some people do react as if we’re the bad guy but those tend to be people who don’t think too much,” Joseph said. “It’s so easy to jump on the bandwagon when you don’t think about the facts.”

Joseph said that the idea of banning plastic may give the impression that the local government is doing “real feel good stuff” to help the environment, but the facts just aren’t there.

Kubani doesn’t agree, stating that the group’s motivation is clearly business related.

“From what I understand, the group is related to the plastic bag making industry, and if Santa Monica does this, it hurts their business,” Kubani said. “Other cities are lining up to do the same thing so they’re trying to fight it.”

While the plastic bag is hanging by its handles, it appears the paper bag seems to be getting away with environmental murder.  Joseph’s Web site claims that the paper bag is actually a worse option than plastic, citing a Scottish Environmental Impact Report.  The Washington Post also put together a handy little piece, noting that paper and plastic bags both “gobble up natural resources and cause significant pollution.”

“Banning plastic and keeping paper is absurd,” Joseph said.

Kubani said he understands paper bags are bad too, and that part of the ordinance to ban plastic bags also would include a tax on paper bags.

“The intent of our ordinance is to achieve a major shift towards people using reusable bags,” Kubani said, noting that the city will look to provide incentive to give free reusable bags.

The Santa Monica city council will look to have a decision on how they will proceed on the ordinance in the coming weeks.

For now, Kubani remains firm in his stance.

“I have read all these reports and it is very clear to me from an environmental standpoint that the absolute best thing Santa Monica can do is eliminate the use of plastic bags.”

James Spencer can be e-mailed at