Our victories will always be under assault

plastic bag in tree
The plastics industry is spending millions to roll back progress on banning plastic bags.

As of last month, plastic bag bans are illegal in the state of Arizona, and I’m all riled up about it.

Granted, no one can be surprised by anti-environment measures in that deeply conservative state, and there are plenty of pollution issues closer to home that deserve more of my energy. But it still drives me nuts that communities like Bisbee (Arizona’s first and only community to pass a bag-ban ordinance) and a handful of others that were considering similar measures, no longer have the option to say “no” to this plastic, toxic trash.

The issue gets under my skin because together, the plastic industry and conservative politicians have their sights set on much more than rolling back progress in a 5,000-person community in the high desert. In fact, recently the city of Huntington Beach moved to trash the bag ban that protects some of California’s most extraordinary beaches. These rollbacks are stark reminders that our hard-fought victories will always be under assault.

There’s no clearer example of this attack than the deeply disingenuous referendum to overturn California’s groundbreaking plastic bag ban, which will appear on ballots in November. As the Los Angeles Daily News opined:

“The referendum is yet another example of an out-of-state business abusing the state’s initiative process. There is nothing grass-roots about it. The plastics industry paid the signature gatherers, and 98 percent of the money came from out of state. More than $500,000 came from Hylex Poly of South Carolina, the largest plastic-bag manufacturer in the nation.”

Save The Bay and its allies paved the way for the statewide ban. Our victories demonstrate that these ordinances are an effective way to curb pollution; that they don’t harm small businesses as opponents claim; and that shoppers quickly embrace the reusable-bag habit. With California’s statewide bag ban now on hold and under fire, we might take some small comfort that whatever happens in November, the protections we’ve won for the Bay Area remain strong.

But we’d be fools to let down our guard. The plastic industry makes $150 million per year selling plastic bags in California alone, and they are well aware that the Bay Area’s leadership on environmental issues is a bellwether for progress around the state and across the country.

They won’t back down from this fight, and neither will we.

Will you help Save The Bay continue its fight against plastic pollution? To support our work and show your Save The Bay pride, become a sustainer today.

How We Did it: Banning Plastic Bags in the Bay Area and Beyond

To learn more about California’s journey to a statewide bag ban, check out our interactive timeline.
To learn more about California’s journey to a statewide bag ban, check out our interactive timeline.

For the last 6 years, Save The Bay has worked publicly and behind the scenes to build the progress necessary to secure today’s victory at the statewide level. 80 percent of Bay Area residents live in a jurisdiction that has adopted a plastic bag ban and the rest of our region is now covered under California’s statewide bag ban. How did we get to this point?

In designing our “The Bay vs. The Bag” campaign, we asked ourselves one important question: What could compel Bay Area city council members and county supervisors to pass a plastic bag ban in their communities? Let’s explore this journey and the underlying strategy that guided us toward success.

A commitment:

To hold cities and counties accountable to taking action on plastic bags, we needed their commitment to the overall goal of reducing pollution flowing into the Bay. That’s why in 2009, we succeeded in getting the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Board to adopt a regional permit that regulates trash flowing from storm drains into our Bay, with the requirement of reducing stormwater trash by 70 percent by 2017 and by 100 percent by 2022.

A trend:

By pressuring key cities to adopt bag bans, we could make it easier for future cities to get on the bag ban band wagon. It would be important to maintain momentum and create the perception that “everyone is getting on board” with bag bans, so that cities yet to adopt a ban would feel the pressure to take action. In 2009, we launched our “The Bay vs. the Bag” campaign to eliminate plastic bag pollution in the Bay Area by working to enact city and countywide plastic bag bans and create a regional trend.

A model:

We needed a major city to take the lead and demonstrate that a plastic bag ban was politically feasible and made good economic sense. That’s why, in 2008, we began working to get the Bay Area’s largest city, San Jose, to adopt a plastic bag ban. Two years of meetings with city council members, organizing local and regional groups, gathering and reporting bag litter data, and engaging neighboring cities to pledge their support finally led to success in 2010.

Partnerships:

In order to appeal to specific regional interests and lawmakers, we needed to build regional partnerships with the organizations and groups who held sway in the community. This proved to be especially important for the business community, to address city officials’ concerns about potential economic impacts of a bag ban. In working to pass a countywide ban in San Mateo, we partnered with the California Grocers Association to make the case that plastic bag bans will benefit the Bay and that consistent policies across city borders make the most sense  for residents and grocers.

Information:

One major need Save The Bay filled was educating city staff and officials about the extent of the plastic bag litter problem, its impacts on our Bay, and what other cities were doing to address this problem.  We gave presentations and provided case studies and fact sheets to dozens of cities, influencing their decision to pass bag bans. Citing data from shoreline and creek cleanups, we made the case that plastic bags were littering the Bay in huge numbers; in 2009, we estimated that over 1 million bags flowed into the Bay each year. We were also able to point to San Jose as a success story: one year after their ban went into effect, bag litter decreased by 89% in the city’s storm drains and 69% in its creeks. Communicating these compelling stats – both on the scope of the problem and the effectiveness of the solution – helped us convince cities to adopt bans.

Public support: 

A final and crucial piece of our strategy was to demonstrate public support of a plastic bag ban, both to hold elected officials accountable and provide them with the ammunition they’d need to stick their necks out and vote in support of a bag ban. Over the last 4 years, we’ve mobilized our community through online petitions in over 14 cities and counties, and outreach efforts in countless others. These petitions are often cited by decision-makers in their supporting statements for a bag ban.

To learn more about California’s journey to a statewide bag ban, check out our interactive timeline. 

Weekly roundup: January 10, 2014

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

7X7 1/4/14
The ultimate Sunday hike: The Albany bulb
Urban wasteland or artistic expression? Visit the Albany Waterfront Trail (aka the Albany Bulb) and decide for yourself. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a unique and eclectic place for exploration, contemplation and human observation. It’s also a great place to walk your dog and experience some of the most fabulous water-level views to be had in the Bay Area.
Read more>>

weekly roundup

San Francisco Chronicle 1/5/14
Appeals court upholds S.F. plastic bag ban as precedent
In the latest legal setback for plastic-bag makers, a state appeals court has issued a ruling upholding San Francisco’s ban on single-use plastic bags as a precedent for future cases.
Read more>>

San Jose Mercury News 1/6/14
Made up names doom San Jose ballot measure to overturn Styrofoam ban
The contentious drive to overturn San Jose’s ban on Styrofoam containers has failed after elections officials found more than half the signatures gathered to place the issue before voters were bogus — and many were just made up.
Read more>>

San Jose Mercury News 1/7/14
Editorial: Polystyrene foam ban stands in San Jose. Yay!
It’s tempting to lose faith in democracy when it seems like money is the only thing that talks. Then something happens — like the failure of the sleazy attempt to repeal San Jose’s ban on polystyrene foam food containers — that restores some faith in the system.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 1/9/14
They’re back – the Bay’s herring hordes return
Sea lions, porpoises and tens of thousands of birds are jockeying for position with fishermen this week as the annual herring run splashes into San Francisco Bay, a spectacular marine wildlife showcase that conservationists say is one of the largest in North America.
Read more>>

The Almanac 1/7/14
Can we rise to the challenge of rising sea levels?
Imagine a darkened bedroom around midnight. You’re lying there in the silence waiting for sleep to come. From the direction of the closet comes a soft scuffling noise. Curious and maybe a bit alarmed, you sit up, but carefully; you don’t want to draw attention to your presence. Holding your breath, you wait, your head at a slight angle, the better to hear whatever it is.
Read more>>

San Francisco Chronicle 1/9/14
Six Flags mommy dolphin practices baby whistle
Dolphins are known for their exquisite communication skills, but a late-term, pregnant dolphin at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo may be one of the first discovered vocalizing to her unborn baby.
Bella, a 9-year-old bottlenose, caused a double-take among her trainers a few months ago when they discovered her alone in a pool vocalizing her “baby whistle” – an individual sound that every mother dolphin uses to call her calf immediately after birth.
Read more>>

Stormwater is the Largest Source of Bay Pollution

Storm drain clogged with trash and debris.
Storm drain clogged with trash and debris.
Photo Credit: Mike Dillon.

Storm drains prevent flooding by draining excess water out of our neighborhoods, streets, and highways and carrying the water through pipes and culverts to nearby creeks that lead to the Bay.

Unfortunately, a lot more than just clean rain water flows to the Bay through our storm drains.  Last week a clogged plastic sewer pipe in Sausalito caused more than 50,000 gallons of raw sewage to spill into San Francisco Bay.  The sewage ran across the sidewalk, into a gutter, and down a storm drain that leads to the Bay 40 feet away.

While incidents like this happen from time to time and generate coverage in the news, storm drains carry toxic pollutants and trash into the Bay literally every time water flows through them.

Contaminants

The recently released “Pulse of the Bay” report found chemicals like pesticides, insecticides, and flame retardants in San Francisco Bay at levels that could pose hazards to aquatic life.

Pollutants enter the Bay through a variety of sources, including wastewater treatment plants, factories, and agriculture.  But according to the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, stormwater is now the largest source of surface water pollution to Bay area waters.

Much of this pollution comes from our streets.  Cars discharge harmful metal particles like lead, zinc, and copper, and leak more oil into the Bay each year than the Cosco Busan oil spill did in 2007. Even the streets themselves contribute directly to the pollution problem.  Asphalt is held together with “recycled” petroleum products and waste from refineries, byproducts that would otherwise require safe disposal.  These toxic substances and the sealants used to coat paved surfaces leach into our waterways over time.

Trash

At this year’s annual Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21st, volunteers got to see first-hand how trash enters the Bay through our storm drains and creeks.  First Flush, the first big rain of the season, washed trash from the streets right into the creeks and wetlands we were cleaning up.

Some streets and highways are so full of litter that storm drains become clogged with trash and other debris, resulting in flooding.  Caltrans spends $50 million each year picking up litter on the streets, and has invested more than $5 million in the last five years to improve drainage on Highway 101 and I-80.

Plastic bags and Styrofoam food containers are some of the biggest offenders, which is why we’ve prioritized plastic bag and Styrofoam bans throughout the region over the past several years.  Recently we’ve turned our attention to the nearly 3 billion cigarette butts littered in the Bay area each year.  We’re investigating the best local policy options to address the largest single source of litter in the Bay area.  In the meantime, we’re also calling on tobacco companies to take responsibility for the toxic litter they produce.  Sign our petition to tell tobacco companies – Keep you butts out of our Bay!

Learn more about water pollutants and how you can help keep our Bay clean and healthy.  

Weekly Roundup | August 2, 2013

Check out this week’s Weekly Roundup for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay.

newspaper

KCBS 7/16/13
San Jose Seeks Styrofoam Ban
The city of San Jose is reaching out to restaurants about a likely ban on polystyrene containers since they’re the last major Bay Area city without a ban on the synthetic insulator.
Read more>>

SF Gate 7/29/13
Masses of Plastic Particles Found in Great Lakes
Already ravaged by toxic algae, invasive mussels and industrial pollution, the Great Lakes now confront another potential threat that few had even imagined until recently: untold millions of plastic litter bits, some visible only through a microscope.
Scientists who have studied gigantic masses of floating plastic in the world’s oceans are now reporting similar discoveries in the lakes that make up nearly one-fifth of the world’s fresh water.
Read more>>

Houston Chronicle 7/30/13
Key U.S. wetlands getting plowed
A report Tuesday by the Environmental Working Group found that from 2008 to 2012, 1.9 million acres (about 3,000 square miles) of wetlands and 5.3 million acres (about 8,300 square miles) of erosion-prone land was plowed for crops in response to lavish crop insurance subsidies and high commodity prices. In the 2008 farm bill, Congress slashed funding for the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers rents to set aside fragile land. Record high commodity prices, along with high crop insurance subsidies, have at the same time created powerful incentives to plow marginal land.
Read more>>

The Guardian 7/29/13
Climate study predicts a watery future for New York, Boston and Miami
Study shows that 1,700 places in the United States are at greater risk of rising sea levels than previously thought. More than 1,700 American cities and towns – including Boston, New York, and Miami – are at greater risk from rising sea levels than previously feared, a new study has found.
By 2100, the future of at least part of these 1,700 locations will be “locked in” by greenhouse gas emissions built up in the atmosphere, theanalysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday found.
Read more>>

Morning Sun 7/28/13
Mystery flamingo turns up in San Francisco Bay
This summer hikers and weekend bird-watchers are all aflutter about a new and distinctly exotic arrival: a flamingo. That’s right. A flamingo. And it’s not made of plastic. The elegant pink bird — normally found in tropical areas thousands of miles from San Francisco Bay — has been spotted several times, and photographed swimming off the Sunnyvale shoreline over the past month. Before that, another flamingo, probably the same one, was seen off the Hayward shoreline as far back as Thanksgiving.
Read more>>

Monterey Herald 7/29/13
Monterey County could pave the way for its cities to ban plastic bans
Monterey County could take the lead on a plastic bag ban aimed at rural areas, as well as the city of Salinas and other area cities, by backing a general environmental review process that could be used by all jurisdictions. According to Supervisor Jane Parker, the county’s alternative energy and environment committee on Thursday recommended the county go ahead with a “programmatic EIR” designed to provide a broad review of the environmental impact of a ban on single-use take-out plastic bags. Parker said that would allow cities such as Salinas to avoid the cost of completing their own environmental studies, and could hasten the process of establishing a plastic bag ban.
Read more>>