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

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.


Deskside with David | Ban plastic bags and Styrofoam? It’s up to locals.

David Lewis
Photo: Russ Juskalian

Two state bills that Save The Bay was watching closely failed to make it out of the legislature this year, where jobs and the economy took top billing.

A state bill to ban plastic bags was proposed for the third time in the past five years. AB 298 (Assemblymember Brownley) would have banned plastic bags statewide at stores that sell food and would have required a minimum charge for paper bags. It’s the same bag policy that cities will implement throughout Alameda County starting January 1. But AB 298 was never able to gain the necessary support to be brought to a vote.

The latest bill to ban Styrofoam food ware in the name of litter prevention and health concerns was SB 568 (Senator Lowenthal). The bill’s coalition of supporters fought for two years to secure support, engaging with school districts, alternative food ware manufacturers, and restaurants all over the state. But the bill failed to pass after a last minute vote on the Assembly floor at the end of August.

During the vote on the Styrofoam bill, opposing lawmakers made a number of weak claims to support their position. For example: any time the words “recycling” and “Styrofoam” end up in the same sentence, beware: Styrofoam food ware is not a recyclable product. Recyclers cannot process it because it’s dirty. And none of the small amounts of this material that are processed are recycled back into food ware. Instead, they become rulers, picture frames and other products that can only end up in a landfill. Ask any Bay Area recycler, and they’ll tell you the same thing – don’t send us Styrofoam.

One false argument against banning Styrofoam that came up several times relates to jobs – because requiring alternatives to Styrofoam will clearly create jobs for the many and growing number of California manufacturers of those alternatives. “Plastics” may have seemed to have a great future back when Dustin Hoffman and The Graduate was on the big screen, but today the future lies elsewhere with reusable and compostable containers.

Perhaps the most troubling suggestion was that coastal communities concerned about Styrofoam litter should ban it, and leave the rest of the state alone. As any Bay Area school kid can tell you, 40% of the state of California drains through San Francisco Bay. And those waters are carrying trash that is littering our Bay and coastlines and slowly filling the Pacific Ocean with plastic.

It’s unfortunate to hear state legislators sound so disconnected from the real world. But at Save The Bay we are recommitting to the path forward – continue working with Bay Area cities and counties to pass strong, effective bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam to protect local waterways. Eventually the state is going to have to catch up.

– David Lewis, Executive Director

Weekly Roundup September 7, 2012

weekly roundupIn this week’s roundup, a local native shrub gets federal protection. As the state’s legislative year ends, few environmental bills were approved. Looking to California’s future, Bill Jennings outlines why a Peripheral Tunnel is a bad idea for the Delta. Plus, the Solano Land Trust preserves 1500 acres of open space, while a local mom finds marsh among industrial landscape. And just how big is San Francisco Bay?

NBC Bay Area 9/7/2012
Federal Government Comes to the Rescue of San Francisco Shrub
A lowly shrub in San Francisco’s Presidio is getting some help from high up, after the federal government on Wednesday placed the nearly extinct Franciscan Manzanita on its Endangered List.
Watch here>>

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Capitol Weekly 9/5/2012
A Peripheral Tunnel is a bad idea
It isn’t people versus fish; there is enough water for both if efficiently and equitably used. The Delta cannot survive the waste of subsidized water to grow subsidized crops in the desert. Gov. Jerry Brown and federal officials might be attempting to persuade the public that the tunnel is nearly a fait accompli, but water ratepayers and voters will reject it, just as voters did 30 years ago.
Read more about plans for the Peripheral Tunnel here >> 

San Jose Mercury News 9/5/2012
Few environmental bills make it out of the California Legislature
Environmental groups and their supporters hoping for a new wave of green laws from the Legislature this year ended up with barely a ripple.From a statewide effort to ban plastic bags, to limits on foam food packaging, most of the top environmental bills of the 2012 session died.

San Francisco Chronicle 9/5/2012
Land buy ‘huge puzzle piece’ for trails
A sweeping panorama of oak-studded hills and valleys that conservationists see as the key to establishing a corridor of open space stretching from the East Bay to Clear Lake will be opened to the public, preservationists said Wednesday.

Hill Babies 9/6/2012
Pier 94 Marshland: sea lions, pickleweed, and a tenuous environment
With some trepidation and a whole lot of doubt, my friends, my daughter, and I drove down the most industrial street in San Francisco, called Amador Street, in the Hunter’s Point / Bayview neighborhood.

KQED Quest 8/31/2012
Waterways of the Largest Estuary on the West Coast
Many Bay Area residents and visitors don’t realize the extent of our estuary’s connection outside of the Bay Area. It’s the largest estuary on the West Coast of North America fed by ocean tides and tendrils of fresh water stretching east to the Sierras and north nearly to the Oregon border.