Thousands of reusable bags were distributed throughout Los Angeles County on December 17 in order to encourage shoppers to give up using disposable plastic bags.
The third annual, “A Day Without A Bag was coordinated by Heal the Bay and supported by a broad coalition of retailers, local governments, and community groups across the county. In Santa Monica, reusable bags were given out on: the Third Street Promenade; at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium; at the Santa Monica libraries; and at various markets and retailers.
Mathew King, Heal the Bay’s Communications Director told the Mirror that since its inception the “A Day Without A Bag” program “has continued to grow. In its first year just 17 of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities participated. This year 71 cities participated and “tens of thousands of bags were given out throughout the County from Catalina to Burbank.”
King attributes the growth in the program to the recognition by cities and individuals that it’s the “right thing to do for the environment” and the taxpayers desire to reduce their costs for the disposal of plastic bags.
Heal the Bay literature states that Californians use about 19 billion bags a year, which works out to about 552 bags per resident. The disposal of these bags in landfills is costing California taxpayers approximately $25 million per year and they are a big source of litter in our neighborhoods and in the ocean.
Plastic bags make their way into the ocean through storm drains, resulting in marine life deaths because fish mistake them for food or become entangled in them. Other environmental concerns about plastic bags are that they are not biodegradable, they are made from fossil fuels which are non-renewable resources, and that they are rarely recycled by end-use consumers.
In February 2008 Santa Monica’s City County unanimously voted on a draft ordinance that would ban the use of single use plastic bags in the City and would place a fee on the use of paper bags at retail stores. However, the Save The Plastic Bag Coalition threatened to sue the City because they didn’t do a thorough enough environmental review before approving the draft ordinance. The City is now waiting for the results of a Master Environmental Assessment study of the ordinance which will be completed in February 2010.
The City of Malibu has had such a ban in place since February 2008. King stated that, “according to City of Malibu officials most stores are complying.” Heal The Bay intends to do a follow-up study with Malibu’s residents to see if they have increased their use of reusable bags.
California Assemblywoman Julia Brownley whose district includes Santa Monica and Malibu has introduced AB68 in Sacramento which if passed would charge consumers a uniform, statewide 25-cent fee on all single-use bags at specified supermarkets, pharmacies, and convenience stores beginning in 2010. It also would require revenues collected from the fee to be distributed to local governments for litter clean up, prevention and outreach programs associated with pollution from single-use bags. Low-income individuals would be exempt from the single-use bag fees.
King also mentioned that students from Santa Monica High School’s environmental youth group, “Team Marine,” collected 400 tank tops for Heal The Bay that are now being sewn by local residents at home into reusable bags.
Heal The Bay’s Public Relations manager, Tara Crow, told the Mirror “A Day Without A Bag” is always done near Christmas because it’s a great way to remind people “not to forget the environment while doing their holiday shopping.”