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.

 

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.

Partnerships:

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.

Information:

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.