A little over a year ago, California voters became the first in the United States to approve a single-use plastic bag ban. With the passage of Proposition 67, Californians took a stand to protect our state’s diverse and fragile environmental systems from being further harmed by plastic bag litter. One year later, we are proud to say that the ban has been successful in reducing the amount of plastic that reaches local waterways and harms wildlife and water quality.
Far from going unnoticed, California’s plastic bag ban set a trend. Hawaii decided to implement its own statewide bag ban, and municipalities across Massachusetts and Washington have taken the same step to protect waterways and wildlife. While many states have yet to follow our example, Californians should be proud of the fact that we have proven ourselves once again to be leaders in protecting both local and global waters from toxic plastic pollution.
Present-day Sunnyvale, California is known as “The Heart of Silicon Valley,” but if you walk into any grocery store or stroll through the downtown farmer’s market in this tech town you’ll notice another trend: people carry reusable bags when shopping.
Four years ago, my hometown hopped on the bag ban-wagon, joining our region’s largest cities including San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose in working to address the Bay’s pollution problem.
Before Sunnyvale’s plastic bag ban went into effect in early June 2012, storefronts around town posted signs that read “Did you bring your reusable bags?”
To me this message was more than a friendly reminder—it revealed the city’s commitment to sustainability and curbing urban pollution.
Unfortunately, ridding our state of this toxic non-biodegradable trash has turned into a drawn-out multiyear dogfight between California and out-of-state polluters.
So why are Californians forced to decide on a statewide plastic bag ban, again? The answer is simple: the Plastic Bag Industry cares more about making green than going green. That’s why there are two propositions on the November 2016 ballot about the same issue: Proposition 65 and Proposition 67.
“It’s so frustrating that we have to fight so hard to protect our planet,” says Aronson. Keeping the bag ban to prevent toxic waste from building up around our homes and in our waterways seems like common sense.”
Having lived in an area where bags are banned, my friends and I know firsthand that transitioning to life without plastic bags is a natural adjustment that also makes you feel good.
“I do feel better about the environment and myself when I pull out my reusable bags instead of using plastic bags,” says Matsuura. “Sometimes it even turns into a conversation starter!”
The simple act of bringing a reusable bag to the store quickly becomes second nature, making the experience of going to a store in a community where disposable bags are still legally distributed feel jarring.
“Traveling to areas without the ban seem bizarre.” Aronson explains, “It reminds me of how much waste people are still creating with single-use bags.”
In the years following the Sunnyvale Bag Ban, hardly any signs reminding shoppers to bring their reusable bags remain. And honestly, there is no real need for them anymore.
Join Jessica, Justin, and me next week in voting for a plastic-free California. It’s time to put the Golden State back on the map as an environmental leader invested not in financial gain, but in preserving this place we call home.
Vote YES on Prop 67 and No on Prop 65 on Nov. 8.
Learn more about the California Bag Ban on Save The Bay’s blog:
Prop 65 is a classic “look here, not over there” distraction tactic by none other than the plastics industry, and they’re banking on their ability to confuse California voters. We’re here to make sure you know better.
Let’s be clear: Prop 65 does not ban plastic bags. It simply requires that the 10 cent charge for paper bags at the checkout stand is sent to a state fund instead of being kept by the store. So what’s wrong with that? The state fund that would be created by Prop 65 is vaguely defined and likely won’t amount to much. We know from the 150+ local bag bans in California that most shoppers quickly make a habit of bringing their own bags to the store instead of buying paper bags for 10 cents. The plastics industry is not in the business of solving our state’s environmental funding issues; Prop 65 is a green washed distraction and nothing more.
Need more convincing? Check out the ten largest contributors to the Prop 65 campaign. Hilex Poly is the old name for Novolex—remember them? They’re the ones who told us they would toss kids’ drawings in the recycling bin when we visited their headquarters in South Carolina earlier this month. The rest of the entities on the list are plastic bag manufacturers as well. NONE of them represent California voters. NONE of them are working to protect California’s waterways and coastlines. NONE of them deserve your vote.
In 2014 something incredible happened: Californian legislators, environmentalists, community groups, labor unions, and business groups all came together to pass a piece of environmental legislation to ban single use plastic shopping bags. Unfortunately the state law, SB 270, which would have prohibited all grocery stores in California from giving away the often littered, unrecyclable plastic bags, never got the chance to be effective. The out-of-state plastics manufacturers who opposed it spent over 7 million dollars to keep it from ever being implemented. They have tried to stop the ban from taking effect for years, but this November, Californians will have the chance to vote yes to uphold this first-of-its-kind legislation in order to reduce plastic trash throughout California and prevent out-of-state industry from setting state policy in our state.
How did we end up here?
We should have had a state wide bag ban for nearly a year now–SB 270 was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Brown in 2014 and was scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2015. Though there had been previous attempts to ban bags at the state level, the 2014 law passed largely because of the example set by highly successful bag bans here in the Bay Area and stronger legislative leadership. The 2014 bag ban had the support of lawmakers from all around the state including every Bay Area Legislator, but wealthy plastics manufacturers from out of state spent millions of dollars to collect signatures for a referendum. Once the plastics industry’s referendum qualified in early 2015, implementation of the bag ban was put on hold.
So even though a statewide bag ban was supported by cities and organizations throughout California, passed by the legislature, and signed by Governor Brown, there are still plastic bags being handed out – ready to blow or float into our waterways and ocean – at stores all around the state.
Local bans paved the way for statewide action
Over 80% of Bay Area residents live in a city or county that has banned plastic bags. Cities across the Bay Area have reported that bag bans are a highly effective way to prevent this plastic trash from entering our environment and endangering fish and wildlife. We know how important bag bans are, which is why it is vital that we all vote YES in November to uphold the bag ban. SB 270 succeeded in the first place, unlike the many bag bills that failed before it, because of political will and popular approval established by the groundbreaking laws here in the Bay Area.
Challenges ahead, but we have the power
To date,out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers have spent over $7 million fighting this lawbecause a statewide ban in California will be a model for the rest of the country. But by blocking our hard-fought policy, bag manufacturers are asking us to pay for the damage done to our environment by their flimsy, throwaway product. We cannot let their greedy interests pollute our waterways and trash our communities. Here are a couple things to keep in mind between now and November, when we will all have a chance to vote YES on the bag ban:
The November ballot will be a long one and the bag ban will be somewhere in the middle. Make sure you sign up for our email updates to find out the proposition number once it is assigned and stay updated on opportunities to help support the ban.
Don’t be fooled. The plastics industry will continue spending money on misleading information and scare tactics to confuse voters and turn our attention away from what we already know: bag bans are good for the environment and wildlife, and reusable bags are the best alternative.
We know that California voters care deeply about the health of our oceans, bays, waterways and wildlife. We can’t allow state policy to be dictated by out-of-state corporate greed. Stay tuned for more information about the bag ban and how you can get involved, and start talking to friends and family about this important opportunity in November.