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

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The devastating effects of plastic bag pollution are very real. A YES Vote on Prop 67 is an investment in the Bay that will produce great benefits for our society, economy, and environment.

Over the past decade, Save The Bay has been fighting to rid the Bay of plastic bags in an effort to aid our long-suffering waterways and ecosystems. And we’ve had some great successes. Most major cities, across the Bay and around California, have banned this prevalent ecosystem-wrecking pollution.

In the cities which have done so, the problem of plastic bag pollution has shrunk drastically. But our biggest victory – SB 270, the statewide bag ban – was robbed by out-of-state plastics manufacturers who couldn’t stand to see their profits chipped away by a massive popular movement demanding better treatment for our waters and wildlife.

Now they’re spending millions to mislead voters about Prop 67, the Nov. 8 ballot measure that will decide the fate of this fundamental legislation. But despite their best efforts, the truth remains – Prop 67 will produce great benefits for our society, economy, and environment.

Plastic bags pose a real threat to the health of our environment and our wildlife.

Plastic bags are devastating to the fragile, interconnected ecosystems of California. Sea turtles eat them, mistaking them for jellyfish, and get poisoned by the toxic chemicals within. They entangle birds and fish. Rather than biodegrade, they break into smaller parts, spreading all over and bio-accumulating in the food chain. The more plastic bags we buy and throw away, the less of a chance we have to rid the Bay and other waters of this pollution.

A claim the plastics industry likes to throw at Prop 67 is that it won’t solve the problem of plastic pollution. But here in the Bay Area we know firsthand that these plastic bag bans work. In San Jose, the number of plastic bags in creeks decreased 71 percent after a citywide ban, and the number of plastic bags in storm drains fell by 69 percent. In Monterey, Save Our Shores reported that the number of plastic bags they picked up during their weekly cleanup events fell from 65 to six, a 90 percent drop. Across the state, across the nation, and around the world, the story remains the same.

Moreover, enacting bag bans would also reduce oil consumption and lower carbon emissions from producing bags. According to a 2013 report by the nonpartisan Equinox Center, a bag ban in the city of San Diego alone would save 9,300 tons of CO2 per year. That’s equivalent to planting 1.2 million trees – for only one city in California. Imagine the savings we would garner if we took this statewide. Voting Yes on Prop 67 will enact a proven method to cut down on ecosystem-choking plastic pollution and reduce our state’s carbon footprint.

Going green makes cents.

Today, if you’re living in an area without a ban, your local grocery store is getting fleeced by Big Plastic. Grocers are being compelled to buy tens of thousands of plastic bags and hand them out, at no charge, to consumers, losing significant amounts of money in the process. But Prop 67 stops that. If the bag ban is enacted, grocers won’t need to buy plastic bags any longer and can instead sell reusable bags (many of which are durable and affordable) and provide paper bags for a 10-cent charge. Don’t Big Plastic confuse you, to ban the bag in California vote Yes on Prop 67 and vote No on Prop 65. 

In the Bay Area, we already know that transitioning consumers from plastic bags to reusable bags has been relatively easy. After San Jose’s bag ban was adopted, for example, reusable bag use increased by an astonishing 1600 percent. This easy switch is not only more sustainable for the environment and local business but it’s also more cost effective for the savvy shopper. A one-time reusable bag purchase is cheaper than paying ten cents for every single paper bag they use.

Bag bans pave the way for a more sustainable future.

More importantly, enforcing such bans can be the gateway to more ambitious change for the betterment of our environment.  If plastic bags are banned, citizens will ask, why isn’t Styrofoam? Why are plastic bottles okay, but plastic bags not? We’ve already seen this dynamic in action.  In the Bay Area, Styrofoam bans followed bag bans in quick succession. In San Francisco, the first city in California to ban plastic bags, Styrofoam and plastic bottles will be prohibited by 2020. Voting Yes on Prop 67 will enable movements such as this to spread across the state.

And if we emphatically block this product from our state, California won’t be the only area affected. It’ll spread to other states and possibly adopted as a nationwide policy. But in order for that to happen, California must lead the way. Voting Yes on Prop 67 will spread the message that we need to get rid of plastic bags, not just here, but in every other locale in the US.

All in all, plastic bags are a blight on our economy, culture, and environment. Ridding ourselves of them will return great dividends. No matter which way Big Plastic spins it, plastic bags choke and poison our beloved Bay critters, emit excessive amounts of greenhouse gases, and clog the Bay. A plastic bag ban here at home could pave the way for a nationwide movement and successfully usher in bans on other harmful products that are toxic to our environment.

The facts are in. The evidence is clear. Don’t mess this up, California.

To ban the bag in California once and for all vote Yes on Prop 67 and vote No on Prop 65.

 

The Zero-Trash K9

Bigges the litter-retrieving Australian Shepherd.
Bigges the litter-retrieving Australian Shepherd.

Three years ago, Diane Petersen was hiking up the well-worn trail of Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Fremont. Accompanying her was her dog Bigges, a two-year-old Australian shepherd.

Bigges was a relative newcomer to the idea of trekking up peaks, and was, by Petersen’s recounting, “kind of bored by hiking.” To make matters worse, his elder companion, the border collie Josie, was not present. Nevertheless, Bigges walked on, all the while wishing that the hike were over. Then Petersen threw a rock at the slope to her right, and Bigges’ life changed forever.

Today, Bigges is a celebrity in the East Bay Regional Park District. He was the subject of one of EBRPD’s most popular Facebook posts. In May, Bigges and Petersen were honored by the Park District Board for their service to our open spaces. The beloved pooch followed that up with a cover appearance and story in the 2016 summer issue of “Compass,” the official magazine for EBRPD’s members. And almost every day, hikers in Mission Peak, the Alameda Creek Trail, Coyote Hills, and many other East Bay parks get to witness his inspirational feats, and invariably burst into applause.

What does Bigges do to garner such recognition? Simple. He leaves no trace, cleans up our parks, and has a blast while doing it.

Bigges, quite by accident, has been trained to pick up plastic water bottles discarded in creeks, crevices, hills, and valleys in our regional parks.

When he was teething, Petersen gave him plastic bottles to chew onto distract him from chewing on her shoes and furniture. Tugging on them soon became his favorite pastime, and today, picking up discarded plastic bottles is still second nature to him.

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Bigges playing a uniquely helpful game of fetch.

So when Petersen throws a rock at a plastic bottle, he runs over and grabs it. “It’s hard to stop him,” said Petersen. “Whenever he sees a water bottle he’ll go out and grab it.” Further training that channeled Bigges’ love of food now motivates him to give Petersen the plastic bottle in exchange for a yummy treat.

“He loves it,” said Petersen. “He thinks it’s great fun. He has a blast.”

Instead of ignoring this ability, or maybe even making Bigges unlearn it, Petersen decided to utilize it in an all-out effort to clean up our open spaces. Even before she had dogs, Petersen did her part to pick up litter and leave no trace. Now, she and Bigges visit Mission Peak, Garin Regional Park, and many of the other trash-filled parks and preserves in the East Bay, seven days a week. The duo always finds something to clean up. They also unvaryingly find tons of appreciation from fellow hikers.

“A lot of times when people see him they clap and seem amazed and go ‘What a good dog!’” said Petersen.  “And I say, ‘yeah, he’s trying to keep the trails clean.’”

In March, EBRPD noticed Bigges when Petersen made some suggestions to the District for a possible bottle exchange program, and included some pictures of the dog in her message. The District, inspired by the photos, asked Petersen if they could feature Bigges in a Facebook post. She assented, and the overwhelming response to the post led to the District promoting Bigges’ story even further. In May, Board President Doug Siden gave Petersen and Bigges a certificate of appreciation; Bigges was also recognized as a Leave No Trace superhero and given a dog-sized cape. He’s also an unofficial celebrity amongst frequent hikers in the East Bay.

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Bigges’ trash haul.

But Petersen isn’t letting Bigges’ sudden fame distract from the true prize: a trash-free Bay.

“It just feels like the Bay Area is pretty darn trashy,” she sighs. “And I know it’s hard on all kinds of species that live out there, the fishermen that go out there, all kinds of different things out in the Bay.”

She pauses. “There’s just so much trash.”

And although committed individuals like Petersen and Bigges are doing all they can, the Bay won’t get cleaned until we all help out.

That’s why Petersen hopes that Bigges’ story will inspire us to go out and clean up after ourselves.

“I feel there are a lot of humans out there who believe we’re the mightiest creatures of all, and my thinking is that if a dog can help keep this place as beautiful as it once was – I feel that if a dog can pick up trash, we humans can do the same thing,” said Petersen.

“I walk along the Alameda Creek, Hayward Shoreline, Coyote Hills, and when it’s low tide, I can just see the trash and I know it’s bad for the animals that live there, for the shorebirds, for the fish, and for our animals – our dogs that swim out in the Bay.

“I know that’s not a good thing, so Bigges and I are doing our part, and I just hope that we can lead by example, and that if everyone pitches in, our parks in the Bay Area will remain beautiful. We get to use these places for free, and what they give us for our physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing is priceless. And the least we can do is try to give back, do our part, and keep it as beautiful as we found it.”

Petersen and Bigges are working hard, but they can’t rid the Bay of trash alone. Help them today.


Pledge your support for a trash-free SF Bay.
 

My Journey to Save The Bay

The security guy eyed me with suspicion as I entered the building. He studied me, trying to come up with a reason for my existence in the room.

“You here to see your parent?” he asked.

“Oh, yeah,” I lied.

“All right, then. Have a good day!”

I walked on and waited for the excruciatingly slow elevator. I had a job to get to, and there was no time to explain what the hell a 13 year old was doing volunteering as a Communications Fellow for an eminent grassroots organization working to protect and restore San Francisco Bay.

The Homeschool

That brings us to the following question: what, exactly, is a 13 year old doing interning for Save The Bay?

The story starts when at age 5, I told my parents I wanted to be homeschooled. Over a period of four years, I learned all I could from my parents, mentors, online classes, and books about math, science, English, history, geography, and the arts.

By the age of 9, I passed the California High School Proficiency Exam, giving me the equivalent of a high school diploma, and enrolled at Foothill College, a community college in Los Altos.

Environment, Environment, Environment

At that time, I had no idea what I wanted to major in. Then, in my second quarter at Foothill College, I came upon a passion for the environment.

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The aforementioned kid at Foothill College.

That quarter, I took E.S. 1, Introduction to Environmental Studies, at Foothill’s sister college De Anza and its renowned Kirsch Center. I walked in on the first day interested in the subject material, but never assuming the class would turn out to be anything but an intriguing diversion.

I walked out the last day a bona fide environmentalist, immensely passionate about renewable energy, conservation, and stopping pollution.

What happened in that class? To be honest, I don’t know.

All I knew was that our unsustainable practices were fast driving our environment into unholy chaos, and the very traits that got us into this mess in the first place – our pragmatism, awareness of the world, innovation, and remarkable ability to spur fellow humans into action – were the only forces that could stop this from occurring.

The tale of the tape is depressing. An ever-warming climate accelerated by feedback effects and increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Rising sea levels. Harsh droughts, heat waves, and wildfires. Superstorms. Ocean currents out of whack. And a political and economic climate with powerful incentives to maintain the status quo.

One thing is clear: After a disruption this monumental, life on Earth will enter a new age. However, based on everything we know about climate change, it’s almost certain that we won’t be part of this new era.

If we don’t clean up our act, and fast, Homo sapiens will soon cease to exist.

That’s why we have to save the environment.

We shouldn’t restore our wetlands because “it’s the right thing to do.” We should restore them because they protect shoreline communities from the impacts of rising sea levels.

We shouldn’t stop dumping toxic waste like cigarette butts, single-use plastics, and Styrofoam into our waterways because it saves the ducks. We should stop because it fouls the Bay’s water quality.

Every single one of us has to pitch in to ensure our species’ survival.

Yes, even me.

The Kid Pitches In

So I did. The summer after taking that environmental science course, I replaced 90 percent of all incandescent light bulbs in our house with LEDs or CFLs. I turned off our sprinkler system. I reduced our A/C consumption. Our house’s energy usage was halved, and our water bill reduced by about 20 percent. I even convinced my family to install rooftop solar. But there was only so much I could do at home. One house cannot solve climate change.

So I got involved in causes and decided to take action.

I collaborated with solar panel company SolarCity to produce a short video concerning the potential of solar power. The next year, I wrote a 15-page report about sustainable agriculture around the world for EnvrionmentCalifornia.

In winter 2016, I participated in the founding of the Sustainable Futures Club at Foothill College, a group dedicated to furthering environmental causes on campus through education and action.

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The Sustainable Futures Club in action.

In an effort to curb the amount of plastic consumption and pollution, we successfully launched a campus-wide movement to ban the sale of bottled water in campus bookstores, cafes, and vending machines.

Idealistic and full of courage, we stormed in to student government and presented our reasoning to have these single-use items bared form campus. At a follow-up meeting a week later, the Sustainable Futures Club’s plan almost unanimously won approval.

Encouraged by my success, I looked for a bigger cause to get involved in during the summer. I soon got an email from my professor Dr. Scott Lankford advising me to apply for Save The Bay’s fellowship program.

The Building of Hope                   

And here I am, working as a Communications Fellow at Save The Bay.

I don’t simply view this opportunity as something I have to do. I view it as a platform. A platform from which I can share my story, my passions, my personality, and channel it all for the greater good – for the restoration and protection of the Bay and for the very survival of our species.

Like many, I want to make a difference in my community and the world. Here at Save The Bay, I get the chance to do so.

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Me, having a blast at a decidedly non-ordinary job.

In this blog and across social media, inside this office, I get to promote important efforts to make the Bay a better place for all of us. I get to educate others and inspire them to take action to further a number of pressing causes. I get to be a part, albeit a small one, of the global effort to sustain the current state of life on Earth, Homo sapiens included.

And you can take part as well. Because while it may seem daunting, taking part in saving San Francisco Bay and the rest of the world’s natural resources and wild places doesn’t need to be an arduous task. I know firsthand that simplest actions have the biggest impact.

So take five minutes today to tell your friends and family about the great work Save The Bay is doing to ensure a clean and healthy Bay for future generations, and encourage them to stay up-to-date on the environmental issues impacting our region, our state, our nation, and our world. Vote for Prop 67 this November. Do whatever it takes to make sure your vision of a cleaner, greener Bay becomes a reality. Together, we’ll make the planet a better place for all species to live – and a place where we humans can thrive for just a bit longer.