Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Banning the Bag: California Goes BYOB

In a breakout move, California strikes new territory – again – and considers implementing a ban on plastic bags.  The move mimics the precedent set by nearly 100 counties and cities within the state, which have already instituted a similar ban of single-use plastic bags.   The state is presently considering Senate Bill 270 which would require the usual suspects, grocery and liquor stores, and pharmacies, to cease to provide plastic bags as of July 2015.  

The alternative option would be either recycled-content or reusable paper bags.   Moving to paper bags is seen as good for the environment and for green job-creation, according to one of the bill’s champions, State Senator Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima.   In actuality, SB 270 is really just an expansion of the prohibitive legislation currently in effect in Alameda County.   Berkeley and other cities (within Alameda County) helped to realize a countywide ban of bags used by retailers for a discrete set of food items, including: milk, bread, soda and snack foods, according to’s, communications manager, Jeff Becerra.   This ban exempted coffee shops, restaurants and bakeries, and did not apply to packaged foods.

The move was in synch with Berkeley’s reputation as a leader in environmentally conscious municipal governance, and was the culmination of an idea that had been wished for, for many years.  Both businesses and customers have had some adjusting to do to acclimate to the ban, but the city’s surcharge on plastic bags (at grocery stores), which had been in effect for some years prior likely helped in that transition.  Prior to the ban, over 764 million plastic bags were in circulation or distributed by county retailers.  And though the ordinance’s results are still being measured, Berkeley can boast significant improvements in its environmental footprint from 2000 on.

The city has reduced solid waste by 43 percent (from 2000 to 2011), carbon dioxide emissions generated by waste by 54 percent, and its per capita waste rate (resident) has consistently been under the state’s goals.  However, what concerns ban-bag proponents, is that despite these (and other) gains, there are 14 billion plastic bags being distributed by retailers throughout the state, of which only 5 percent actually are recycled.

Americans are recycling more than 34% of our waste.  Through recycling, versus landfilling or combusting, 7.5 million tons of metals Americans more than 20 metric tons of greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide) emissions, in 2011.  We removed more than 183 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by recycling and composting.  And since 1990, the total MSW sent to landfill declined by 11 million tons (as of 2011).  But our numbers still leave much to be improved.  Annually, we generate approximately 250 million tons of trash, of which we recycle about 34.7%, which is a definite year-over-year improvement.  However, individually our waste generation continues to climb.  In 1960 an individual generated 2.68 pounds of waste each day.  Now that number is 4.4 pounds each day, of which around 29% is recycled.

It is for these reasons that a more substantial bill (SB 270) is on the table.  We still have a ways to go.        
Ethan Malone is an advocate for environmental changes and supports initiatives that foster an eco-friendly and sustainable way of living. Sources used for this article can be found a

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