Let’s Send a Clear Message to the Plastic Bag Industry

Photo by Alistair
The plastic bag industry just needs to realize it’s over.

Thick skulled. Tone deaf. Toxic. Desperate. Dumb.

Any other ideas what to call a pig-headed industry group, led by a South Carolina-based polluter and bent on rolling back progress in California?

The group aims to stop California’s groundbreaking ban on single use plastic bags by putting it to a popular vote. To overturn the law, they’d have to collect 500,000 voter signatures by the end of the year to get a referendum on the November 2016 ballot. They’re prepared to spend big to make that happen.

But we don’t think the state bag ban is going anywhere. Thanks to regional victories by Save The Bay and others, one-third of Californians already live with a local bag ban, and the sky has not fallen. Grocers have not gone out of business. Consumers have not revolted in outrage. In fact, adapting has been easy, and we’ve already kept billions of wasteful bags from littering our cities, contaminating our waters and choking our wildlife.

Unfortunately, if opponents of progress get enough signatures to place the repeal on the ballot, the state would have to shelve the ban until a popular vote could happen at the end of next year. That delay alone would mean 18 billion—yes, billion with a B—single-use bags unnecessarily wasted.

As an editorial in the Mercury News smartly puts it:

 “If ever a referendum deserved to be trashed, it’s the plastics industry’s attempt to undo California’s first-in-the-nation plastic bag ban. … If it does, let’s call it the Right to Pollute Streams and the Ocean, Kill Wildlife and Overflow Landfills Initiative.”

So tell your friends, family and neighbors to watch out for the plastic industry’s paid canvassers, and to be prepare to tell them exactly where they can stick their single-use plastic bags when they come looking for a signature.

Update: If you see paid signature gatherers attempting to overturn the California Bag Ban, please report them.

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.

An Open Letter to Governor Brown

Save The Bay has been working for years to rid San Francisco Bay of plastic bag pollution. This month, we are closer than ever to achieving a statewide bag ban in California. SB 270 has passed the state legislature and is awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. We recently sent this letter calling on the Governor to sign the bill into law. You can do your part by sending a message to Governor Brown today

RE: Support for SB 270 – Solid waste: single-use carryout bags

Dear Governor Brown,

On behalf of Save The Bay’s 60,000 members and supporters throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, we urge you to sign SB 270 (Padilla, De León, and Lara) into law. After eight years of state and local advocacy, this bill has the support of business organizations, industry associations, unions, and environmental organizations across the state. SB 270 will establish a baseline for eliminating plastic bags in jurisdictions that have failed to enact their own local restrictions, moving our state closer to plastic-free shorelines and waterways.  By enacting SB 270, the state would also help 76 Bay Area municipalities to eliminate trash in their stormwater systems by 2022, as required by regional agency permits.

Bay Area communities have supported banning plastic bags since San Francisco became the first U.S. city to do so in 2007. Environmental organizations, solid waste professionals, elected officials, and chambers of commerce have united to craft strong local bag ordinances that reduce pollution of waterways while providing consistency for businesses and residents.  As a result, 76% of Bay Area residents now live in a jurisdiction that has banned plastic bags. SB 270 builds upon these models and the Bay Area’s leadership and will dramatically reduce plastic bag pollution statewide.

Every argument from opponents of plastic bag bans has been disproven by the actual experience of cities and counties that have enacted them. Despite industry advocacy for bag recycling, not one Bay Area jurisdiction has found it to be economically feasible. Fears that bag bans will hurt businesses have proven unfounded, as business owners continue to support regionally consistent policies. Claims that plastic bag pollution is not a problem are disproven every year on Coastal Cleanup Day, as volunteers remove thousands of plastic bags from our creeks and shorelines. Marine debris starts on land, and California has the obligation and opportunity to decrease its contribution of plastic trash to our oceans.

California is being hailed as a leader for taking action against single-use plastic bags and the degradation they cause in California’s waterways. Please implement this groundbreaking policy by signing SB 270 into law.


David Lewis
Executive Director