The plastic bag ban in California was a long journey for the environmental community. Originally passed in 2014, the bag ban was put in jeopardy when plastic bag companies lobbied for a ballot referendum challenge—putting implementation of the ban on hold. However, California voters ultimately got what they wanted and ratified Prop 67 during the 2016 voting cycle—finally banning the bag statewide!
“The 2016 election results demonstrated to policy makers that consumers strongly support the elimination of single-use plastic bags,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste. “In the 12 California Counties that [had] already banned plastic bags, support was most overwhelming.With better than 66 percent of voters saying yes to Prop 67, [that was] the end to polluting plastic shopping bags.”
Preliminary results from this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day unequivocally show that the bag ban is a succes. Plastic grocery bag litter has not only dropped 72 percent when compared to 2010 results, but also now account for less than 1.5 percent of items littered. Humboldt County saw significant drops in plastic bag pollution when Arcata adopted a city ordinance banning the distribution of plastic bags in 2014. As the NEC Coastal Programs Coordinator, I have personally witnessed the disappearance of plastic bags from our beaches through hosting and participating in beach cleanups as well as Coastal Cleanup Day each year. It is quite amazing to see what the bag ban and educating the public about reusables can do!
The success is not just limited to cleaner beaches. As the first to adopt a statewide ban, California will pave the way for other states to follow. Many cities and counties in other states have adopted partial or full plastic bag bans.
The battle to ban all plastic bags distributed at checkouts continues, however, as a loophole in the ban allows slightly thicker plastic bags, considered “reusable”, to still be available. We hope to see these and other single-use plastic items that litter our watersheds eliminated as well. The California legislature attempted to pass a polystyrene (styrofoam) ban last year, but was unsuccessful. The proposed ban gained a lot of support, however, and will hopefully be reintroduced next year.
Going “zero waste” and eliminating the use of single-use items—such as plastic straws, styrofoam take-out containers, plastic utensils, and disposable coffee cups—is a growing trend. Before the introduction of plastics, single-use items were wasteful luxuries, but as they became the norm, a disposable lifestyle became commonplace. Even electronics, appliances, and other items are being developed for shorter life-spans. It is time for us to say no to single-use items and the throw-away mentality and commit to making a change.
There are many ways to eliminate the use of disposables in your day-to-day life: keep a set of reusable utensils with you when you go out, pack your own lunches, use reusable bags, and bring your own coffee mug. Imagine the impact if everyone made the switch and used reusables instead of disposables!