Paper or Plastic? A Lawyer’s Answer Sends Him From Hero to Pariah

San Francisco Cheered as He Fought Oreos, But Jeers as He Battles for His Bag of Choice

paper-or-plasticSAN FRANCISCO—When lawyer Stephen Joseph sued Kraft Foods Inc. several years ago to eliminate trans fat in Oreo cookies, activist friends here celebrated his spirit. Now the party’s over.

Mr. Joseph recently ran into one of them, Betsy Rosenberg. “He was my hero,” she says. “I talked about him in speeches.” But when they saw each other, she asked, “Have you gone over to the dark side?”

Ms. Rosenberg was referring to Mr. Joseph’s metamorphosis into one of the nation’s most vocal defenders of plastic bags. Out of a townhouse near Fisherman’s Wharf, the onetime renewable-energy lobbyist now runs the website SaveThePlasticBag.com. He sends pro-plastic messages to municipal officials around the state and is disputing the existence of plastic-bag related “garbage patches” in the ocean.

Mr. Joseph has also made it a mission to sue California cities for their plastic-bag bans, alleging the cities violated state environmental law because the bans may boost the use of paper bags, which can also hurt the environment.

“I have a plastic watch, and I just got new plastic glasses,” says the 56-year-old attorney. “I love plastic.”

Mr. Joseph’s transformation has made him very controversial in the Bay Area, which has led the country in banning plastic bags. San Francisco approved its ban—the nation’s first—in 2007, followed by San Jose, Palo Alto and other cities… [read full article]