Plastic Bags Aren’t Banned Until They’re Really Banned

Next month, the Alameda County Waste Management Authority – Stopwaste – will assess the effectiveness of the county’s plastic bag ban and consider whether or not to expand it to all types of stores. Save The Bay is encouraging Stopwaste to close the gaps in their current policy and ban plastic bags at all retailers, just as Richmond, El Cerrito, Walnut Creek, and many other Bay Area cities have done.

alameda plastic bag ban
Photo credit: Dave Bleasdale

Since going into effect on January 1, 2013, Alameda County’s Reusable Bag Ordinance has banned the use of plastic bags at check-out and instead encourages shoppers to bring their own reusable bag or purchase paper bags for a minimum of 10 cents. But, the ordinance only applies to stores that sell food – grocery stores, large pharmacies, convenience stores – which means that over 5,000 of the county’s 7,000 retailers are still handing out plastic bags.

Alameda County, like many municipalities around the Bay Area, understands the environmental and fiscal benefits that single-use plastic bag bans can bring. Plastic bags are one of the most ubiquitous litter items found in our urban and natural areas and pose a deadly threat to wildlife that become entangled in or mistakenly ingest them.

The Regional Water Quality Control Board requires 76 Bay Area cities to eliminate trash from their storm drains and creeks by 2022. Bag bans are one of the ways that cities can tackle their trash problem, reducing trash at the source and saving tax-payer money spent on extensive litter clean-ups.

We reviewed four years of trash cleanup data from all over the county and found that although the ban went into effect at the beginning of 2013, plastic bag litter was still present at more than half of the county’s trash “hot spot” sites throughout the year. While the number of bags littered may be decreasing, getting to zero trash will require stronger policies.

Alameda County has come a long way on their journey to tackle plastic bag litter – it’s time to finish the job. Please join us in urging the Stopwaste Board to implement a comprehensive bag ban that covers all retail stores and restaurants, and protect the Bay and its watershed from plastic pollution.

The True Impact of E-cigarettes

As our society looks increasingly towards technology to find innovative solutions to existing problems, it comes as no surprise that the habit of smoking too has found a technological incarnation, namely in electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

Contents of an e-cigarette.
A – LED light cover
B – Battery usually lithium-ion can be rechargeable or disposable
C – Heating coil (atomizer)
D – Cartridge containing liquid nicotine

E-cigarettes have taken the world by storm with current global sales topping in at $2 billion. First introduced onto the U.S. market in 2007, their use has become widespread, and despite the fact that the FDA does not approve it as a smoking cessation tool or as a less toxic alternative to regular tobacco cigarettes, their future use in the U.S. is expected to increase exponentially.

E-cigarettes are a tobacco free product. They use liquid nicotine which is vaporized and then inhaled instead of burning tobacco. But what many people don’t realize is that this product presents a unique set of pollution concerns not associated with tobacco products.

E-cigarettes are comprised of a lithium battery, a heating coil (an atomizer), a plastic cartridge containing liquid nicotine, a sensor which registers when the user takes a drag to activate the atomizer, and a LED light to simulate a burning cigarette. Some e-cigarettes are rechargeable with refillable cartridges, while others are disposable and last as long as a pack of regular cigarettes. E-cigarettes are considered e-waste and need to be disposed of accordingly.

It is critical that these products do not end up in our landfills in the Bay Area. E-waste is filled with an array of heavy metal contaminants that are toxic to the environment. In landfills these metals leach out and contaminate soil and groundwater which eventually flows into our beloved Bay.

As e-cigarettes are fairly new on the market, local waste disposal companies have not yet addressed the disposal requirements of this product to the public. We ask users to be aware of the electronic component of e-cigarettes, and drop off their e-cigarettes at their nearest electronic waste disposal site.

Check out Best Buy stores or Earth911 for e-waste disposal sites near you.