Environmental Law

Anti-Trans-Fat Crusading Lawyer Loves Plastic, Sues Over Bag Bans; Has He Gone to ‘Dark Side'?

San Francisco lawyer Stephen Joseph is a staunch defender of plastic grocery bags.

He has sued Manhattan Beach over its plastic bag ban, claiming the Southern California town didn’t follow state law mandates for environmental impact statements, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) reports. He has threatened lawsuits against a county and six other cities. So far he has succeeded in the Manhattan Beach lawsuit, now pending before the California Supreme Court, and his work helped persuade two other jurisdictions to conduct environmental reviews.

Joseph’s crusade is a sharp contrast to his early fight against trans fats in Oreo cookies. Now his early activist admirers have abandoned their support—including one woman who confronted him and asked if he had gone over to “the dark side.” Time magazine noted the controversy in a 2008 profile with this lead: “In the pantheon of lost causes, defending the plastic grocery bag would seem to be right up there with supporting smoking on planes or the murder of puppies.”

Joseph agreed to defend plastic after his second cousin, a plastic-bag executive, asked him to debunk the myths, the Wall Street Journal says. Joseph initially refused, but he changed his mind after researching the issue. He now earns a six-figure paycheck as spokesman for the group Save the Plastic Bag Coalition.

Industry-financed studies evaluating paper versus plastic have produced dueling reports on which is more harmful to the environment. Joseph points to a 2004 peer reviewed report commissioned by a supermarket chain that found it takes more water to produce paper than plastic bags and paper emits more greenhouse gases. But plastic bag litter is worse for the environment, the study found.

“I have a plastic watch, and I just got new plastic glasses,” Joseph told the Wall Street Journal. “I love plastic.”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.