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Company Training Local Military Vets to Construct 'Green' Products to Win Santa Monica Contract  

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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 24, 2017 -- A company that trains local war veterans for today’s increasingly “green” consumer market is set to receive a nearly $200,000, five-year contract to construct Santa Monica City-branded reusable bags.

City staff recommended the contract, which issues a purchase order for reusable bags hand-made in Los Angeles by war veterans using scrap material that would otherwise have gone into a landfill.

The contract is with Special Operations Technologies, a California-based company that employs military veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs/ West Los Angeles campus to hand-make all of its reusable bags.

S.O. Tech “provides a rehabilitation program to the local homeless veterans who make these bags,” said a report from the offices of public works and sustainability and environment to the City Council.

“The program provides job training allowing veterans to re-enter the workforce, and has helped several veterans out of homelessness,” the report said.

The contract was on the council’s Tuesday agenda as part of its consent calendar, a section reserved for non-controversial items that are usually routinely approved.

The City began purchasing reusable bags from S.O. Tech in 2009, selected “due to the considerable environmental, social and local economic benefits of its operation,” the report said.

The company also provides local jobs, addressing long-standing concerns about the loss of jobs to overseas competitors.

The City’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment and the Farmers Market both use the bags, although the first gives them away (they are valued at about $4.50 each) as City promotional materials and the latter sells them.

Santa Monica approved a law in 2011 banning the single-use plastic carryout bags for retailers and regulating paper carryout bags for environmental reasons ("Santa Monica City Council Approves Bag Ban," January 26, 2011).

The staff report notes that, at the time, the City was worried about the prohibited bags being replaced with inexpensive reusable bags that were of poor quality, possibly imported and potentially contaminated with heavy metals or other toxic contaminants.

The City pledged to distribute about 25,000 reusable bags, free of charge, to the public in an effort to ease the way toward using higher-quality reusable bags.

To date, the City has spent $200,268 to purchase about 40,000 reusable bags from S.O. Tech, which is its sole provider.

More than five years later, though, reusable bags are still “far from prevalent in the marketplace,” the report said.

Between 3.5 and 3.8 million paper bags are still sold in Santa Monica every year,” it said.

Nonetheless, the public’s increasingly green conscience is helping to drive more demand for the environmentally friendly bags that the City is championing, the report said.

“Reusable bags remain in high demand as giveaways at events and customers continue to purchase them at Farmers Markets,” officials said.

“Although the culture has shifted, work is on-going to ensure that customers select the environmental friendly alternative on an on-going basis.”

A search by City staff for similar shopping bags made of comparable materials in similar quantities found a price range of $4.06 to $4.71 per bag.

Some were less expensive that the bags produced by S.O. Tech, but “the environmental, social, and local economic benefits of partnering with S.O. Tech align directly with the goals of the Sustainable City Plan,” staff reported.

Over the next five years, the Farmers Market anticipates purchasing 2,800 regular shopping bags and roughly 600 heavy-duty shopping bags ($14.25 per bag) from S.O. Tech.

These purchases would total approximately $24,000. OSE anticipates ordering approximately 5,000 shopping bags per year over the next five years, totaling roughly $35,000 per year and a potential total cost of $175,000.

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