Our Chance to Uphold California’s Bag Ban


In 2014 something incredible happened: Californian legislators, environmentalists, community groups, labor unions, and business groups all came together to pass a piece of environmental legislation to ban single use plastic shopping bags. Unfortunately the state law, SB 270, which would have prohibited all grocery stores in California from giving away the often littered, unrecyclable plastic bags, never got the chance to be effective. The out-of-state plastics manufacturers who opposed it spent over 7 million dollars to keep it from ever being implemented. They have tried to stop the ban from taking effect for years, but this November, Californians will have the chance to vote yes to uphold this first-of-its-kind legislation in order to reduce plastic trash throughout California and prevent out-of-state industry from setting state policy in our state.

How did we end up here?

We should have had a state wide bag ban for nearly a year now–SB 270 was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Brown in 2014 and was scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2015. Though there had been previous attempts to ban bags at the state level, the 2014 law passed largely because of the example set by highly successful bag bans here in the Bay Area and stronger legislative leadership. The 2014 bag ban had the support of lawmakers from all around the state including every Bay Area Legislator, but wealthy plastics manufacturers from out of state spent millions of dollars to collect signatures for a referendum. Once the plastics industry’s referendum qualified in early 2015, implementation of the bag ban was put on hold.

So even though a statewide bag ban was supported by cities and organizations throughout California, passed by the legislature, and signed by Governor Brown, there are still plastic bags being handed out – ready to blow or float into our waterways and ocean – at stores all around the state.

Local bans paved the way for statewide action

Over 80% of Bay Area residents live in a city or county that has banned plastic bags. Cities across the Bay Area have reported that bag bans are a highly effective way to prevent this plastic trash from entering our environment and endangering fish and wildlife. We know how important bag bans are, which is why it is vital that we all vote YES in November to uphold the bag ban. SB 270 succeeded in the first place, unlike the many bag bills that failed before it, because of political will and popular approval established by the groundbreaking laws here in the Bay Area.

Challenges ahead, but we have the power

To date, out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers have spent over $7 million fighting this law because a statewide ban in California will be a model for the rest of the country. But by blocking our hard-fought policy, bag manufacturers are asking us to pay for the damage done to our environment by their flimsy, throwaway product. We cannot let their greedy interests pollute our waterways and trash our communities. Here are a couple things to keep in mind between now and November, when we will all have a chance to vote YES on the bag ban:

  • The November ballot will be a long one and the bag ban will be somewhere in the middle. Make sure you sign up for our email updates to find out the proposition number once it is assigned and stay updated on opportunities to help support the ban.
  • Don’t be fooled. The plastics industry will continue spending money on misleading information and scare tactics to confuse voters and turn our attention away from what we already know: bag bans are good for the environment and wildlife, and reusable bags are the best alternative.

We know that California voters care deeply about the health of our oceans, bays, waterways and wildlife. We can’t allow state policy to be dictated by out-of-state corporate greed. Stay tuned for more information about the bag ban and how you can get involved, and start talking to friends and family about this important opportunity in November.

We’ve won big — Here’s what’s next

Bay Area voters’ approval of Measure AA is the biggest win for our Bay in decades, and it would never have happened without Save The Bay’s supporters. Our victory will mean cleaner water, more abundant wildlife, and greater climate change resilience for our Bay. Because of Measure AA, we’re on track to pass on a healthier and more vibrant Bay to our children and grandchildren.

It feels great to celebrate this amazing moment, but the truth is Save The Bay is just getting started with the next phase of our critical work. There is so much more to do.

Our Measure AA victory gives us enormous momentum to tackle the biggest threats to our region in the coming decades—pollution and climate change.

We have an ambitious strategy to tackle these head-on.

Measure AA will raise about 1/3 of the funds needed to restore 30,000 acres of wetlands. With your continued help, Save The Bay will lead the fight for federal funding to secure the rest of what’s necessary. The President and Congress should match Measure AA funds with major investments, just as they have in Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, especially because so much restoration here will occur within federal wildlife refuges.

We’ll also continue directly restoring Bay habitat by putting more volunteers to work improving the Bay. And as always, we’ll bring the best science to decisions on how the Bay adapts to climate change.

We’ll also boost our work to help cities reduce trash flowing into the Bay to zero by 2020. And while we have secured plastic bag bans in most Bay Area communities, bag manufacturers have blocked a statewide bag ban and forced a referendum vote on California’s November ballot.  We’ll play a leading role to win that statewide bag ban.

Our next step is to make Bay Area communities “Bay Smart.” That means we will be promoting nature-based solutions to stormwater pollution prevention, fresh water conservation, filtration, and storage – which low-impact development advocates call “green infrastructure.” It also means we will be supporting a broader set of sustainable and equitable development practices. These “Bay Smart” standards will reduce energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases that fuel climate change, address the disproportionate impacts of sea-level rise upon disadvantaged communities, and expand public access to the shoreline.

I’m excited about this work ahead of us, and encouraged that we have strengthened our movement by leading Measure AA to victory.  The partnerships we built and people we mobilized can do so much more together to protect and restore San Francisco Bay for wildlife and people.

Bay Day — It’s Official!

The Bay Area is full of beautiful views, amazing natural resources, vibrant cities and diverse people – these are just a few of the reasons why the Mayors of Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco have joined forces to create an official day to celebrate our region. The mayors of the Bay Area’s three largest cities dedicated the first Saturday in October as Bay Day, and Saturday, October 1st, 2016 will be the inaugural celebration.

“Our Bay deserves to be celebrated—because there’s no place else like it in the world,” said Mayor Ed Lee. “I am proud to join with the mayors of Oakland and San Jose to establish Bay Day: One official day every year when our communities can come together and celebrate our most precious resource – the Bay.”

Bay Day will be one day a year where the region can come together to celebrate San Francisco Bay. On Bay Day, dozens of cultural attractions, community organizations, small businesses and parks all around the Bay Area will host special, Bay-themed programs so residents can explore, enjoy, and learn more about our Bay.

“Save The Bay is proud to partner with cities around the San Francisco Bay to dedicate the first Saturday of October as an official day to celebrate the Bay,” said Save The Bay’s Executive Director David Lewis.

For more information on celebrating Bay Day or to share your ideas for Bay Day activities this year, check out bayday.org or email bayday@savesfbay.org. Remember – without the Bay, we’d just live in The Area!

Protecting the Bay Is the Thing to Do—No Ifs, Ands or Butts

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One of the most widespread pollutants of the Bay is something that gets scant notice from passers-by, but remains surprisingly, and disturbingly, widespread: cigarette butts are polluting the Bay by the tens of thousands.

Cigarette butts are not biodegradable and contain toxic materials that can harm birds, animals and fish. Here’s a detailed fact sheet from The Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.

On a fine spring morning this May, a Save The Bay team fanned out across San Mateo to do a survey of just how many cigarette butts get tossed as litter. Why San Mateo? That’s because the San Mateo City Council enacted an ordinance that went into effect Nov. 15, 2015. We wanted to see how that ordinance is playing out on the streets. This was a follow-up to a survey done in 2014.

In a daylong expedition, the team surveyed shopping centers, parks, bus stops and city sidewalks. The team gingerly plucked cigarette butts with gloved hands and deposited them in collections bags, maintaining a tally as we went along. Curious citizens asked what the heck we were doing, giving us a chance to explain about the hazards of cigarette butts. Our efforts were greeted with supportive comments, whether from shoppers or street people.

We picked up a grand total of 3,056 butts from 15 sites. That’s compared with 2,635 found in survey Save The Bay did at the same sites in 2014.

The results show there’s still a long way to go in the battle against the butts. Here’s what we found as Ethan Tucker, policy associate with Save the Bay, reported in this summary:

“Overall, at the sites we surveyed in San Mateo we found a slight but substantial increase in cigarette litter. Though the city passed a smoking ordinance in 2015 that prohibits smoking at parks and recreation areas, on city sidewalks, and at bus stops it is clear that the ban has not been implemented effectively. We expected to see a reduction in the amount of cigarette litter found at these sites since the ban has been in place for over a year. However, 12 of the 15 sites that we looked at had more cigarette litter in 2016 than they had in 2014, additionally, we noticed that even though a smoking ban is now in place at most of the sites we surveyed, an ordinary passerby would have no way of knowing that smoking is not permitted since most of these areas are without any signage.”

Despite public awareness about the health hazards of smoking, much remains to be done to get the butts off the streets and out of the Bay environment. With your help, progress is being made. In April, the East Bay Regional Parks District’s Board of Directors adopted a policy that will prohibit smoking in most areas of the parks. This will help keep the toxic litter out of creeks that flow to the bay.

What can you do? Contact your local government representatives and encourage them to adopt and enforce anti-smoking and anti-litter laws.

Click here to support Save The Bay’s efforts to preserve and protect the Bay’s waters.

Bal Tashchit for the Bay

Michael with David Lewis
Seventh grader Michael Sipes presents Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis with the fund raised for his Tzedakah Project.

Michael Sipes is a 7th grader at Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School who selected Save The Bay for his Tzedakah project, which honors the Jewish value of obligatory giving. Each student chooses a Jewish value and a social issue that aligns with the value, as well as an organization working on the issue. Students then commit to volunteering, advocating, and fundraising for the organization.

Michael chose the value of Bal Tashchit and identified Save The Bay as an organization working to prevent environmental degradation. He fundraised $1,300 dollars for Save The Bay as part of his Tzedakah project, which he presented to Executive Director David Lewis.

In his own words, this is why Michael chose Save The Bay for his Tzedakah project:

The value I chose for the 7th Grade Tzedakah Project was Bal Tashchit (בל תשח׳ת), which means to protect our world. Bal Tashchit is important because the world is our most precious resource, and we must do everything we can, to protect it from harm. Save the Bay is an organization that works on solving environmental degradation by preventing pollution, restoring wetlands and by stopping bay fill in the Bay Area. By doing this, they are enacting Bal Tashchit. For those reasons I chose Save the Bay as my organization.

Thank you to Michael for your commitment to protecting our world through protecting San Francisco Bay!