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California to Legislators: Stop Bogging Down Bag Bill

California is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in environmental causes, but our legislators have been far too entangled with the petrochemical lobby to get the job done on banning plastic bags statewide.
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California is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in environmental causes, but our legislators have been far too entangled with the petrochemical lobby to get the job done on banning plastic bags statewide. The statewide ban returns every legislative session as reliably as the waves along our coast, but when it comes down to the vote, the bill dies by a few votes or gets stuck in committee like a plastic bag caught in a storm drain. This time the bill is called Senate Bill 405, like the freeway. You might appreciate the humor in the bill's number if you spend time on the 405 or any of our other California freeways and experience the abundance of plastic bags blowing about and covering the vegetation.

The benefits of banning plastic bags have been proven by the 75 local government jurisdictions that have already passed bag bans while the state fails to take action. These jurisdictions have shown the effectiveness of the bans both in reducing plastic pollution and in saving taxpayers money that should be spent more productively. The 75 cities and counties operating under bag bans provide hard data about the law's effectiveness. The LA County Ordinance has achieved a 94 percent reduction in overall plastic and paper bag usage at large stores and pharmacies, which includes eliminating all single-use plastic bags and reducing paper bag usage by 25 percent (County's November 2012 Status Report). The City of San Jose's 2012 litter surveys indicate that plastic bag litter has been reduced by "approximately 89 percent in the storm drain system, 60 percent in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent in City streets and neighborhoods, when compared to [pre-ordinance] data ...." (Id. at p. 5)

Every analysis to date shows that the manufacture and use of plastic bags generates more pollution -- including green house gases -- than paper. Even the Industry's own study shows paper bags produce 59 percent less green house gases over their lifecycle, and use less fossil fuel. (Boustead Consulting & Associates: "Life Cycle Assessment for Three Types of Grocery Bags--Recyclable Plastic; Compostable, Biodegradable Plastic; and Recycled, Recyclable Paper," 2007.)

In California, we're spending as much as $103 million per year to keep single-use plastic bags from becoming marine pollution. That's because even when they are properly disposed, they get loose. Lightweight and aerodynamic, plastic bags are easily picked up by the wind and blown out of trash cans, garbage trucks, and landfills. Landfills are surrounded by fences up to 10 feet tall -- not to keep people out but to try to keep plastic bags in. Let's face it, plastic bags are better kites than they are bags. A canvas bag beats a plastic bag in every measure of benefits: number of uses, strength, washability, lower cost to taxpayers and environmental sustainability.

Recycling is not a solution to plastic bag litter. While plastic bags are 'technically' recyclable, the truth is less than 5 percent of plastic bags are actually recycled each year. In 2013, the City of Sacramento reported that its materials recovery facility shuts down six times a day to remove plastic from the machines for an estimated loss of $100,000 annually.

Plastic bags never biodegrade; instead they break into small pieces that animals can mistake for food. Birds and turtles are just two of the 663 species of wildlife that are impacted by plastic marine pollution either by ingestion or entanglement. According to the U.S. Marine Debris Monitoring Program, plastic bags are the most commonly found item on beaches with the potential to entangle animals.

Senate Bill 405 is now floating about in the Senate Appropriations Committee for the third time, and let's hope the third time is a charm, not a strike out. All Californians deserve the benefits that are already accruing to the 75 jurisdictions that have passed bag bans.

Likewise, LA City Council is delaying implementation of its bag ban. A full year ago, on May 23rd 2012, the Council voted to proceed on a bag ban after years of delay. LA City has everything it needs to make an informed decision to ban plastic bags: its own environmental impact report supporting the ban, the court case on Prop 26 has been favorably decided upholding the LA County style bag ban ordinance, and public support for the ban. It's time for the vote in LA City council to join the 75 other local jurisdictions that are showing the state the benefits of a bag ban.

Each year more plastic bags are distributed, disposed and littered than the year before. Californians used 14 billion single-use plastic bags in 2010. Mere decades ago, no one used plastic grocery bags; now, we use them for five minutes and they last forever. It's too high a price to pay.

That's why it is so important that LA City join the growing movement of local jurisdictions to ban plastic bags and California's State legislators finally pass SB 405, legislation that will eliminate this major source of plastic pollution and waste by encouraging reusables and recycled paper bags, and phasing out single use plastic grocery bags.

Please sign Surfrider's message to LA City Council to finally join the 75 local jurisdictions, like Los Angeles County's unincorporated domain, that have banned plastic bags.

And please sign MoveOn.Org's petition to support CA SB 405 Banning plastic bags in the State of California.

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