Plastic Pollution Roundup

Plastic Pollution on Malaysian beach
Photo by: epSos.de

Preventing trash from flowing into San Francisco Bay has been an ongoing battle with a repeat offender: plastics. Save The Bay has worked with local communities to ban plastic bags, Styrofoam, and tobacco litter, as well as calling to attention the harmful effects that toxic trash poses to our waterways. Here are several posts that show how far we’ve come in the fight against plastic pollution, and what you can do to help restore the Bay’s health.

The Plastic Trash You Don’t See by Allison Chan

Trash—plastic in particular—remains a very visible pollution problem in our local creeks and along the Bay shoreline. But it’s the plastic you don’t immediately see that’s the latest cause for concern. A recent study determined that billions of tiny pieces of plastic currently pollute the Bay, more than any other major water body in the country.

Bay Pollution and the World’s Oceans by Daniel Adel

While Save The Bay advocates for a healthy Bay, plastic pollution contributes to a global trash problem. Toxic plastic trash can make its way from our streets into our waterways and ultimately out into the ocean via the Golden Gate. Now consider the geography of our region – a heavily populated metropolitan area surrounding the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas – and you can imagine the scale of this issue.

How Beth Terry Kicked the Plastic Bag Habit by Beth Terry

Before June of 2007, Beth Terry lived the plastic lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle of consumption, enabled by convenience, and seduced by low cost. Products are inexpensive because they are not designed to last; they are packaged so that they can wait indefinitely on store shelves. But we’re not paying the full cost of this lifestyle.

5 Reasons Why You Should Kick the Plastic Water Bottle Habit by Erin McMullen

We all have bad habits. They are little things we know we shouldn’t do, like buying water in plastic bottles. We tell ourselves it’s just this one little bottle, but every one adds up, and plastic water bottles are so ingrained in our society, it’s a hard habit to break. Despite spending an average of a hundred dollars a year on plastic bottles, plastic bottle users prioritize convenience over doing the right thing.

Do you want to stop trash from flowing into the Bay? Sign the Zero Trash pledge to eliminate polluted runoff in our waterways.

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.

Acting Locally to Make a State Bag Ban Possible

Bag Monsters
We have come a long way in the fight against plastic bags.

Only a few years ago the idea of stemming the flow of plastic trash into the Bay seemed like an overwhelming problem. One million plastic bags were entering the Bay every year. While we recognized that plastic trash was affecting all of California’s waterways and ocean coast, we knew we had to tackle the problem in our own region, because that’s where we knew we could make a difference.

I’m proud to report that California’s legislature has passed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags through Senate Bill 270, which is awaiting Governor Brown’s signature. And the reason this is possible is because we laid the groundwork locally.

We began by advocating for trash to be classified as pollution, and regulated like other toxics in stormwater. We won new permit limits requiring the elimination of trash from Bay stormwater by 2022. Then we worked directly with cities to reduce throwaway plastics at the source, through local bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam food ware. Bay Area cities responded, and four years later more than 75% of the Bay Area population lives where a ban on single-use plastic bags is in force.

But many communities across the state are far behind. A state bag ban can close the gaps and make a bigger dent in plastic trash that plagues our neighborhoods, waterways, and beaches.

California has tried for many years to pass a bag ban law. What’s different this time? Mainstream business organizations like the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the California Grocers Association are lining up behind the state ban. Businesses and consumers find the bill palatable because the Bay Area has demonstrated the value of a consistent regional approach to regulating bags. By working locally, we’ve secured collaboration and coordination between cities and counties, so supermarket chains and other businesses face the same laws region-wide. We’ve proven that bans work to keep plastic out of our waterways, prompt consumers to switch to reusable bags, and don’t harm businesses.

It’s remarkable that an idea once considered controversial has become mainstream so quickly, after just four years of advocacy by Save The Bay and our supporters. How did we get here?

  • In 2009 twenty-six waterways that flow to the Bay as well as the lower and central portions of the Bay itself were found to be so filled with trash that they violated federal Clean Water Act standards. Photographic evidence of shoreline trash submitted by Save The Bay supporters was convincing to the State Water Board and U.S. Environmental Protection agency.
  • Save The Bay convinced Bay Area water quality officials in 2010 to adopt the first-ever trash regulations under the Clean Water Act, requiring cities to reduce trash flowing into the Bay under the Municipal Regional Stormwater Permit. Cities must demonstrate that they have reduced trash flowing into the Bay by 40 percent by September 2014, and eliminate all trash flowing to the Bay by 2022.
  • When we suggested cities could advance compliance by banning plastic bags, some people thought we were crazy and predicted shoppers would revolt. The first cities to pursue bans were sued by front groups for the plastic industry. But shoppers adjusted.  Retailers adjusted. The lawsuits failed.
  • Local bag bans work: One year after San Jose’s ban went into effect plastic bag trash had decreased by 69% in the city’s creeks and 89% in its storm drains. The average number of single-use bags per customer dropped from 3 bags to 0.3 bags per visit.

On September 1, California state legislators passed SB 270, but it still needs a signature from Governor Jerry Brown. It feels good knowing that Bay Area residents and their representatives have embraced the value of conservation over convenience for the sake of the Bay. The Bay Area should be proud of its leadership on reducing plastic trash – now it’s time for all of California to catch up.

Ask Governor Brown today to sign SB 270 into law and make plastic bags history in California.

Guest Post | Greening Santa Clara

Santa Clara is finally moving forward with plastic bag and Styrofoam bans.
Santa Clara is finally moving forward with plastic bag and Styrofoam bans.

Sudhanshu “Suds” Jain retired from designing chips in 2008 to work on Climate Change.  He volunteers for Acterra, Sierra Club and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

On March 18, 2014, the Santa Clara City Council voted unanimously to direct staff to prepare ordinances for both a single-use carryout plastic bag ban and on a ban on expanded polystyrene (EPS = “Styrofoam”)  foodware containers. Santa Clara is one of very few cities in the Bay Area which still don’t have plastic bag bans. I’m irked every time I go to the supermarket in Santa Clara and see that 90% of the people mindlessly have their groceries placed in single use plastic bags; most people just seem to be on autopilot and oblivious.

In 2012, San Mateo County completed an environmental review for a countywide plastic bag ban that cities in Santa Clara County were invited to participate in. By joining this effort, cities would have legal coverage to pursue a bag ban. As a Santa Clara resident, I was disturbed by the fact that Santa Clara didn’t join the San Mateo County group EIR even though it would have cost the city nothing and wouldn’t have obligated the city to implement a ban.

I’m currently a Sierra Club Cool Cities leader and have an email distribution list of about 30 people who are interested in greening Santa Clara. In preparation of the March 18th vote, I emailed often to this list encouraging members to write letters to Council and to come to the meeting. I also emailed to some distribution lists and teachers at my son’s previous schools.   I got wind that the stopthebagban.com folks were going to come to the meeting and ask that the bag ban be put on the ballot for a vote. I countered at the meeting that the vote wouldn’t be a fair fight because we’d be vastly outspent. What really seems to have clinched the vote was the large turnout of Girl Scouts and one very brave 5th grader.

The fight isn’t over yet. Once staff has prepared the ordinances, Council has to vote to adopt. I encourage all Santa Clara residents to watch “Bag It” and then come to the meeting to show that there continues to be strong community support for joining neighboring cities in eliminating plastic bags.

– Sudhanshu “Suds” Jain

News of the Bay: March 14, 2014

Check out this edition of News of the Bay for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

National Wildlife 1/27/14

Harbor Porpoises’ Remarkable Return
On a blustery California August day, researchers are studying some of San Francisco’s least-known residents from an unlikely laboratory: the Golden Gate Bridge. Below in the bay glides a parade of boats—fishing vessels, a tall ship, a slow container barge packed with colorful boxes like giant Legos. Behind the scientists, tourists pause to snap pictures, unaware of the ongoing hunt. Through binoculars, Bill Keener suddenly spots his quarry: a harbor porpoise, its dark gray dorsal fin appearing briefly before resubmerging. Keener predicts the porpoise’s course and, just as it surfaces again, photographs the animal before it disappears. “Got it,” he declares triumphantly.
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News of the Bay

Daily Camera 3/8/14
Boulder: Disposable bag use down 68 percent in wake of 10-cent fee
Six months after Boulder instituted a 10-cent fee on disposable grocery bags, use of plastic and paper bags has fallen 68 percent, city officials said.
That figure is based on a comparison of estimated bag use before the fee was implemented in July and the number of bags paid for by shoppers in the last six months, said Jamie Harkins, business sustainability specialist for the city.
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Sacramento Bee 3/10/14
E-cigarettes face restrictions as cities update smoking ordinances
The electronic cigarettes flooding the U.S. market don’t technically emit smoke, but many cities have decided they’re not much different from ordinary cigarettes.
Last week, Rancho Cordova became the latest local government to pursue restrictions on e-cigarettes; the City Council directed staff members to treat them like regular smokes when they draft amendments to city code sections governing smoking. The Los Angeles City Council also voted last week to restrict e-cigarette use where tobacco smoking is restricted, including restaurants, parks, bars, nightclubs, beaches and workplaces. Similar measures have been approved in a number of Bay Area cities, along with New York and Chicago.
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Reuters 3/13/14
In drought-stricken California court rules smelt fish get water
A California appeals court sided with environmentalists over growers on Thursday and upheld federal guidelines that limit water diversions to protect Delta smelt, in a battle over how the state will cope with its worst drought in a century.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court should not have overturned recommendations that the state reduce exports of water from north to south California. The plan leaves more water in the Sacramento Delta for the finger-sized fish and have been blamed for exacerbating the effects of drought for humans.
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