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


Power of Youth: Sunnyvale’s youth pave the way toward a sustainable future

Foam foes were celebrating Tuesday night after The Sunnyvale City Council voted unanimously (7 – 0) to move forward with a polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) ban.

Community members, including several students from Homestead High School, came out to express their concern about the prevalence of foam take-out containers in local restaurants.

Save The Bay was on hand to witness the event that authorized city staff to draft a citywide ordinance that will ban Styrofoam take-out food containers. But the good news doesn’t stop there.

Surprisingly, Sunnyvale City Council members went above and beyond the staff recommendation. In addition to mandating that the city draft an ordinance, council members also discussed ways to apply the ban to non-food establishments, proposed launching volunteer programs to clean up local waterways, and discussed responsible ways to dispose of the Styrofoam that remains exempt from the proposed ordinance for now.

Polystyrene is manufactured with styrene, which is listed as a carcinogen by the federal Government. It breaks up into small pieces that end up in the Bay and ocean, where wildlife often mistake it for food. This lightweight material might be cheap, but it also happens to be one of the most commonly littered items found floating in Bay waters or strewn along the shoreline. Styrofoam jeopardizes water quality, wildlife, and human health.

While watching the debate unfold, it was clear to me that the presence of the community’s youth and their genuine concern about Styrofoam use influenced the council’s decision to move forward with the ban. This is not the first time Sunnyvale youth have displayed environmental awareness. Earlier this year Sunnyvale residents Justin Matsuura and Jessica Aronson (both Homestead Alumni) expressed their gratitude to the city after it voted to ban single-use plastic bags. The youth of this community have made it clear that single use plastic bags and Styrofoam are a thing of the past.

Throughout 2012 the City of Sunnyvale has encouraged citizens to integrate environmentally sound lifestyle changes. Last night’s landslide victory shows us that the city of Sunnyvale is making real progress toward becoming a sustainable community. Click here to see if your city has passed a Styrofoam ban.

–Vivian Reed, Former Communications Volunteer

The Sunny Side of the Bag Ban: local reaction a month after Sunnyvale ditches the plastic

Sunnyvale residents Jessica Matsuura and Jessica Aronson sit in front of the city's reusable bag sign.
Sunnyvale residents Justin Matsuura (left) and Jessica Aronson (right) are both in favor of the new ban.

A month ago, the City of Sunnyvale enforced the first phase of their citywide ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags in my hometown. Many residents were pleased to hear that their city jumped on the plastic bag ban-wagon since neighboring cities have already enacted similar sanctions.

A few months before the June deadline, the city posted several signs in front of grocery outlets, shopping center parking lots, and other stores in an attempt to warn shoppers about the upcoming change. During the first few days of the bag ban, several retail stores helped shoppers adjust to the new change by handing out free reusable bags.

Thanks in part to the signs and giveaways, residents are slowly adjusting to the ban and learning to bring reusable bags everywhere—not exclusively grocery stores. “[Before the bag ban] I brought reusable bags to the grocery store. However, I relied on disposable bags from retail stores when shopping for other things. Now, I have been making an effort to bring reusable bags whenever I go out,” says Sunnyvale native Jessica Aronson. It is only a matter of time for this new habit to become second nature.

Like Aronson, local Sunnyvale resident Justin Matsuura and his family kicked the plastic bag habit a couple of years before the ban. Till this day, Matsuura continues this sustainable practice and takes pride in introducing this healthy habit to his college roommates at UC Irvine.  “Currently, Irvine does not enforce a ban on plastic bags, but I am encouraged that something similar might happen soon because the campus has drastically improved its facilities to reduce wasteful habits. I have even convinced my roommates who are from Southern California to start using reusable bags.”  Matsuura goes on to say that single-use plastic bags are a big waste of time, energy, and resources that end up in the trash or pollute our natural environment.

Without question this ordinance will help the environment, but it will also help our local and state economies. According to Sunnyvale’s government website and the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, “Sunnyvale alone uses 75 million plastic bags a year, each resident on average using 497 single-use bags per year.” These bags continue to clog our waterways and contribute to Save The Bay’s estimated total of 1 million bags entering the Bay every year.  And within in the last 15 years only 5% plastic bags are actually recycled throughout California. Our negligence of proper disposal forces the state government to spend an estimated $25 million per year to clean our trash.

My friends and I proudly applaud our city’s effort to ban single-use plastic bags. In doing so, the city will instill sustainable habits for generations to come. We are hopeful that this will lead to other bans such as a ban on polystyrene (or Styrofoam) in our town. Aronson notes, “While the bag ban is an adjustment for some, I believe that we can turn the use of reusable bags into a lifestyle rather than just a policy.” Soon reusable bags will be commonplace throughout Sunnyvale.

Has your city banned single-use plastics? Sign our petition to urge Bay Area governments to ban plastic bags and polystyrene. 

– Vivian Reed, Former Communications Volunteer

The beginning of the end for plastic bags in Sunnyvale

Plastic pollution
Sunnyvale's bag ban aims to prevent plastic pollution like this.

Tomorrow, June 20th, Sunnyvale’s plastic bag ban will go into effect. The ordinance, passed in December 2011, bans single-use plastic carryout bags in grocery stores, convenience and liquor stores, drug stores and other large stores; the ban will extend to all other retailers in 2013. Click here to view the list of businesses affected by the first phase of implementation.

While plastic bags are banned, customers can still obtain a paper bag for 10 cents. This charge was  based on San Jose’s ordinance in order to create consistency across city borders and make compliance easier for businesses as well as consumers. In March of 2013, the city will phase in all other retailers, completing the all-retailer bag ban and eliminating 69 million plastic bags from use each year. Click here to learn more about Sunnyvale’s plastic bag ordinance.

Sunnyvalecity staff have worked hard to prepare residents for this transition.  Many have already made the switch – one Sunnyvale resident recently noted that bringing her own bags has become second nature for her children and herself. She even gives these reusable bags as gifts. The benefits of using reusable bags are even economical as well as environmental. Just bring your own bag and you won’t have to pay a thing!

Sunnyvale now joins the company of 13 other Bay Area cities and counties that have banned plastic bags to protect our waterways from pollution. Save the Bay congratulates the City of Sunnyvalefor implementing this important policy and calls upon other Bay Area cities follow suit. Sign our petition to urge your city council members to prioritize ordinances that ban single-use plastic bags.

 Jay Bhayani, Policy Volunteer