Sunnyvale residents advocating for a plastic-free California

Murphy Street Farmers Market
In Sunnyvale, using reusable bags has turned into a lifestyle rather than just a policy. Photo: Vivian Reed

Present-day Sunnyvale, California is known as “The Heart of Silicon Valley,” but if you walk into any grocery store or stroll through the downtown farmer’s market in this tech town you’ll notice another trend: people carry reusable bags when shopping.

Four years ago, my hometown hopped on the bag ban-wagon, joining our region’s largest cities including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose in working to address the Bay’s pollution problem.

Before Sunnyvale’s plastic bag ban went into effect in early June 2012, storefronts around town posted signs that read “Did you bring your reusable bags?”

To me this message was more than a friendly reminder—it revealed the city’s commitment to sustainability and curbing urban pollution.

Jessica Aronson supports Prop. 67. because it is the next step to saving our beautiful state.
Jessica Aronson supports Prop. 67. because it is the next step to saving our beautiful state.

My friends and Sunnyvale natives Jessica Aronson and Justin Matsuura were also thrilled about the new change and viewed this ordinance as a natural next step in ensuring a plastic-free California.

Unfortunately, ridding our state of this toxic non-biodegradable trash has turned into a drawn-out multiyear dogfight between California and out-of-state polluters.

So why are Californians forced to decide on a statewide plastic bag ban, again? The answer is simple: the Plastic Bag Industry cares more about making green than going green. That’s why there are two propositions on the November 2016 ballot about the same issue: Proposition 65 and Proposition 67.

Big Plastic has spent millions to fool voters into supporting Prop 65—a very regressive and disingenuous measure that would repeal the state’s existing ban approved by Governor Jerry Brown in 2014.

“It’s so frustrating that we have to fight so hard to protect our planet,” says Aronson. Keeping the bag ban to prevent toxic waste from building up around our homes and in our waterways seems like common sense.”

Having lived in an area where bags are banned, my friends and I know firsthand that transitioning to life without plastic bags is a natural adjustment that also makes you feel good.

On occasion store clerks have thanked and complimented Justin Matsuura for bringing his reusable bags to the store.
Store clerks have thanked and complimented Justin Matsuura for bringing his reusable bags to the store.

“I do feel better about the environment and myself when I pull out my reusable bags instead of using plastic bags,” says Matsuura. “Sometimes it even turns into a conversation starter!”

The simple act of bringing a reusable bag to the store quickly becomes second nature, making the experience of going to a store in a community where disposable bags are still legally distributed feel jarring.

“Traveling to areas without the ban seem bizarre.” Aronson explains, “It reminds me of how much waste people are still creating with single-use bags.”

In the years following the Sunnyvale Bag Ban, hardly any signs reminding shoppers to bring their reusable bags remain. And honestly, there is no real need for them anymore.

More importantly, this local ban has turned plastic bag litter into a problem of the past. A recent study reveals a 100% reduction in the number of single use plastic bags found in municipal trash capture devices. This is good news because stormwater is the largest source of pollution in San Francisco Bay.

Proposition 67 would allow cities throughout California to achieve similar victories in reducing plastic bag pollution. Matsuura believes this initiative will “keep our state trending in renewable, recyclable, and sustainable practices for our future.”

As Californians, we all favor policies that protect the environment and inspire sustainable choices. We also believe that intentionally destroying our environment for financial gain is not okay. That’s why our state’s most credible editorial boards, elected officials, and environmental leaders and organizations including Save The Bay vehemently oppose Proposition 65 and support Prop 67.

Join Jessica, Justin, and me next week in voting for a plastic-free California. It’s time to put the Golden State back on the map as an environmental leader invested not in financial gain, but in preserving this place we call home.

Vote YES on Prop 67 and No on Prop 65 on Nov. 8.

Photo: Vivian Reed

Learn more about the California Bag Ban on Save The Bay’s blog:

Op-Ed: Prop 67 bag ban stakes are global

Bigger than the Bag: the true promise of a state bag ban

Don’t be fooled by Prop 65


Connect with Mother Nature, offline

Sometimes, a new perspective of the world around us is all it takes to “disconnect to reconnect” with the self. Photo By: Vivian Reed

It seems like it was only yesterday when my Dad purchased our first family desktop computer in 1996. During that time school computer labs were furnished with clunky, colorful Macintosh desktop computers, CDs and VHS tapes predated MP3s and Netflix, and the Y2K hysteria dominated tech headlines.

My friends and I, most of whom were born in the early 1990s and grew up in Silicon Valley, often talk about the role of technology and its lightning-fast changes throughout our lifetimes. The consensus? A shared belief that the definition of childhood has evolved as today’s children are more in touch with technology, literally.

Growing up in a town where at least one member of each family worked in tech, meant every kid on the block had the latest and greatest gadget in his or her possession (and it still is the case today). Although I was often envious of my classmates who sported their shiny, razor-thin camera flip phones, I always felt happiest and more relaxed outdoors.

Swinging on my backyard swing set, puddle jumping with friends in a rain storm, playing organized sports at the local park, hiking around the Bay Area with my family, and backpacking with friends in the Sierra Nevada are my fondest childhood memories. And it is those memories of a time spent outdoors, that fueled my decision to begin my career as an environmental advocate at Save The Bay.

We are lucky to live in a region with incredible access to the outdoors, but only if we take the time to get away from our screens. Recently, I have become concerned that we’ll lose a connection that’s stronger than your wifi signal — our connection with the natural environment.

The truth is, technology is so inextricably woven into our lifestyle that it’s not just a millennial issue. Look around — anyone old enough to operate a smartphone most likely owns one (or at least has access to one). This constant connection affords an ability to know what is happening in real time, but it also takes away from using that “real time” to inspire the next generation of Bay Savers.

Today disconnecting from the world has transcended into a spiritual practice that cleanses the mind, body, and soul. This trend of “disconnecting to reconnect” opens a new area of study for social science researchers, provides fodder for a “reality” television show, and even inspires business entrepreneurs to found a tech-free, digital detox camp for adults. But here’s my question: Can the practice of seeking solace outdoors in this highly-connected era help solve the environmental problems we face today?

I’m not so naive to suggest that one glance of San Francisco Bay from the region’s tallest peaks, one day of biking along the Bay Trail, or one night of camping at Angel Island State Park will immediately inspire you to tackle today’s environmental challenges head on. But, I do believe that prioritizing and making a continuous effort to play outdoors can redefine what is really important to us as individuals. And if we value outdoor recreation, then the next logical step would be to commit to preserving and protecting this open space.

If the old adage “Today’s children are tomorrow’s future” rings true, then it’s our collective responsibility as adults to make play a priority for our children by signing off of technology and plugging into the world around us. It is time we all see and experience the world  through our own eyes — not live vicariously through someone else’s photograph of a beautiful landscape posted online.

This weekend, I challenge you to go outside and enjoy a day by the Bay free of technology. Then store those memories in your mental computer and and share them with your loved ones in person. I bet you won’t even miss your screen.