Protect California’s Bag Ban

Bill the Pelican taking a photo with his Save The Bay bag for the #MyBag Campaign
Bill the Pelican taking a photo with his Save The Bay bag for the #MyBag Campaign

In August of 2014, California became the first state in the country to approve a plastic bag ban and on September 30, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law. This was an exciting victory for keeping toxic trash out of our state’s waterways and the Pacific Ocean.

The bag ban was set to go into effect on July 1, 2015 but the plastics industry funded a referendum to stop it. Paid signature gatherers collected signatures across the state in order to hinder the bag ban. Several reports indicate that the plastics industry used deceptive means to obtain signatures.

In late February 2015, Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that the bag ban referendum had qualified, delaying implementation of the bill until voters approve it in November 2016. According to Padilla, the plastics industry has already spent over $3 million in this effort, with 98% of funds coming from out-of-state interests.

80% of Bay Area residents are currently living in a jurisdiction that has banned plastic bags and the majority of Californians support the ban. We cannot let out of state interests and the plastics industry weaken our progress when it comes to preventing plastic pollution for the entire state.

In response, we’re asking you to join a growing coalition of organizations that are advocating for and upholding a statewide bag ban. To kick off these efforts, Sacramento-based organization Californians Against Waste developed a social media campaign called #MyBag, launching  July 1st to commemorate the day that the statewide bag ban should have gone into effect. For many of us in the Bay Area, bag bans are already common place, so let’s show the rest of the state how easy it can be to bring your own bag.

The #MyBag social media campaign invites you to go online and post pictures of yourself, friends and family, with reusable bags you use at the store.

Post your #MyBag ‘selfie’ to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and make sure the world knows you’ve had enough of single-use plastic bags polluting the environment.  Include the #MyBag hashtag and tag @saveSFbay to help spread your support for California’s plastic bag ban.

Reality Check for Big Plastic: 60% of California Supports the Bag Ban

Bag Ban Referendum Plastics Industry Pollution Plastic Bags
Plastic bags are a blight on the environment, no matter how the plastics industry spins it. Photo via Anthony Fine on Flickr.

Hot button issues like the passing of recent statewide bag ban – the first of its kind in the nation, thanks to Governor Jerry Brown and the hard work of thousands of like-minded activists (at the state and local level) – never fail to bring out the best and worst in people.

When it was signed into law on September 30th, victory bells rang, birds flew triumphantly through the air, ocean wildlife breathed a sigh of relief, and life went on much as it did before the bag ban passed. Employment rates did not plunge (bag ban opponents claimed they would), and no one except for the grumpiest of grumbly Republicans complained of government overreach. Statewide support for the bag ban remains strong.

Although its impact stands to keep billions, yes, billions of plastic bags out of landfills and our waterways, prevent them from harming the environment for centuries (because plastic literally does not biodegrade), and save Californians millions and millions of dollars collectively each year, plastic bag manufacturers still want the law overturned.

Why? So they can keep making money, of course! If you want a good chuckle, read the comical propaganda manufacturing giants like Novolex have concocted to distract you from their ulterior motives. Some of our favorite bogus statements are outlined in this LA Times’ editorial by columnist David Lazarus, which calls out the plastics industry’s claims and smartly compares its current position to the car industry’s opposition to seat belt laws.

But they aren’t simply spreading misinformation via websites and social media. Bag ban opponents are going full throttle on a referendum to reverse the law. They’ve got street teams all over California collecting signatures (they need 500,000 by the year’s end to make it onto the November 2016 ballot) to reverse all the progress our state has already made. Now, there’s a way to stop them. Californians Against Waste is asking people to report signature gathering using this form. Just last week, Save The Bay spotted a paid signature collector in downtown Oakland outside of our local Rite Aid – and we reported him. CAW will then use this information to put bag ban advocates on the ground to counteract opponents’ efforts, hold media stunts, and inform the public as to why the bag ban is crucial for the health and vibrancy of California.

So yes, even though we’ve won the battle against the bags for now, we have to stay on our toes and keep that victory in our grasp. Help send a message to the plastics industry that they are on the wrong side of history and report any paid signature gatherers here.

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.


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.


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. 

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.

76% and Counting: Marin County Bag Bans Signify Tipping Point

The past few months have been exciting for Marin County, as slowly but surely, many of the incorporated cities and towns have elected to adopt single-use carryout bag bans. Bag bans are rapidly becoming the norm in the Bay Area- our most recent statistics show that 76% of Bay Area residents are living in jurisdictions with plastic bag bans!plastic bag on otter

The story in Marin begins several years ago, as the trend towards banning plastic bags was just gaining a firm foothold. With strong support from Save The Bay and several other environmental organizations, Marin County passed a plastic bag ban for the unincorporated areas of their county, which went into effect in January 2012. Fast forward to January 2014, two years later: the Marin Hazardous and Solid Waste Joint Powers Authority certified an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the entire county, ensuring that each individual jurisdiction within the county is able to pass a ban without having to pay a hefty amount to complete their own EIR. This largely expedites the process for each city and town, allowing them to utilize the model ordinance provided, tailor it to their expectations, and adopt it as soon as they would like. As anticipated, most Marin County cities did just that.

San Rafael was the first city in Marin County to adopt a ban this spring, even pledging to consider expanding their ordinance to include all retailers and restaurants one year after implementation- a commitment that no other cities made, unfortunately. San Rafael was followed quickly by Novato, Sausalito, Larkspur, Belvedere, and most recently, San Anselmo. Tiburon has this item on their July 2nd agenda, preparing to follow suit. Since Fairfax and Mill Valley were the only two Marin cities to adopt ordinances independently— Fairfax in 2008 and Mill Valley last fall— if Tiburon passes their ordinance, the only jurisdictions in Marin left without bans will be Ross and Corte Madera. We hope that these final two towns will recognize the need to address this serious litter issue, keep dangerous plastics out of our waterways, and help create consistency for customers and businesses within Marin County once the bans are in effect.

We’re proud of Marin County and its cities for addressing this issue, but there is still work to be done. These local ordinances ban plastic bags at grocery stores and convenience stores, but other retailers can still hand them out. Though Marin County has not yet completely eliminated plastic bags, we are pleased with how quickly most of the county has taken action- and we’re almost there! We encourage all Marin Co. cities to consider expanding their bag bans to include all retailers and restaurants in one year, as San Rafael has agreed to do. We look forward to the day when plastic bag pollution no longer threatens Marin’s creeks and shoreline. In the meantime, check out our Pollution Facts page to learn more about how urban runoff impacts the San Francisco Bay, and what you can do to help minimize pollution!