On December 20, Santa Monica citizens will join 10 million Los Angeles residents in 88 cities throughout the County, putting aside political, religious, and cultural differences to unite on a single, positive action:
Going 24 hours without using a single plastic bag.
Sponsored by Heal the Bay in association with a host of retail, government, and nonprofit partners, “A Day Without A Bag” is an attempt to build broad awareness about the environmental, social, and economic impacts associated with single use, disposable plastic bags. The all-day event will encourage consumers to replace plastic bags with more eco-friendly reusables, by distributing thousands of free bags to shoppers, and providing education about the ecological and economic costs of disposable plastics.
Santa Monica shoppers will receive their free bags at various retail locations, including Whole Foods, 99¢ Only Stores, Ralph’s, and other high-traffic retail hubs (see healthebay.org for a complete list). This green holiday gift is intended to kick off a more eco-friendly holiday season, and ideally spark longer-term behavior changes. New Year’s resolutions are, after all, right around the corner….
A Day Without A Bag will culminate in a high profile media event at The Grove, inviting celebrities, media, and public officials to join in a coordinated search for sustainable alternatives.
Once lauded for their convenience, plastic bags are coming under increasing scrutiny for their high environmental and economic costs. Unfortunately, the very same attributes that once made plastic so popular are now coming back to haunt them:
They are cheap, and therefore easily expendable;
They are lightweight – easily blowing into waterways and oceans;
They are extremely durable, persisting for thousands of years in marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
Over six billion plastic bags are used annually by Los Angeles residents, less than five percent of which are “recycled,” or more accurately “downcycled”, i.e. converted into lesser grade products that ultimately must be disposed of at the end of their lifecycles. The vast majority of the remaining 95 percent end up occupying landfills, or escaping into the natural environment, where they pose increasing threats to ecosystems and wildlife.
The impacts of plastic debris on the marine environment are particularly alarming. According to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF), there are areas of our ocean so filled with debris that plastic to plankton ratios have now reached as high as 30 to 1. One of the leading organizations working to document plastic waste in our oceans, the AMRF has been conducting sampling studies for the past decade in the North Pacific Gyre, a collection zone for marine debris due to its unique current patterns. The quantities of plastic waste found in the gyre, if gathered into a single mass, would fill an area twice the size of Texas.
In addition to the ecological costs, plastic bags exact a significant economic toll upon local municipalities. Cleanup and disposal fees for plastic bags cost cities an estimated 17 cents per bag, paid for by consumers’ taxpayer dollars. And for coastal cities such as Santa Monica that generate revenue through tourism, plastic trash on beaches can potentially threaten a valuable source of income.
The December 20 A Day Without A Bag event is part of a larger collaborative effort to create a groundswell encouraging more consumers to bring reusable bags throughout the year, and to launch an annual event focusing on positive education and awareness. While education alone will not solve the problem of plastic waste in the environment, it is a key, effective component when coupled with relevant policies and participation from industry and business partners.