With all of our beaches and wilderness and gorgeous climate to protect, California has never been shy when it comes to getting on the environmental concern train. Even at the beginning of the year, Manhattan Beach published Five Ways to Live Without Plastic Bags on their city website. Now, they are poised to attempt a more proactive step forward with the proposal of an ordinance prohibiting the use of plastic bags within its city limits. Activist organization Heal the Bay released a statement to the city’s officials yesterday, offering their full support and encouragement.
On behalf of Heal the Bay and our over 12,000 members, we support your proposal to ban the free distribution of single use plastic (including biodegradable plastic) carryout bags at all stores within Manhattan Beach. Heal the Bay applauds the City of Manhattan Beach for taking leadership to curb the proliferation of single use plastic bags in your community. We further encourage you to include a provision in your proposal that would require retailers to charge a fee on single use paper bags and include penalties for noncompliance with the proposed ordinance.
Plastic carryout bags are wreaking havoc in our inland and beach communities. An estimated 6 billion plastic bags are used each year in Los Angeles County. Because these bags are only designed for single-use and have a very low recycling rate (1-5%) the majority of these bags are either landfilled or end up as litter in our watersheds and beaches. During the 2006 California Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers collected over 120,000 plastic bags. Plastic bags have become so ubiquitous that public agencies in Los Angeles County collectively spend $18 million annually to clean up plastic bag litter.
Furthermore, plastic bags severely threaten wildlife and degrade the environment. For months after a storm, streamside vegetation, in-stream habitats and creek bottoms are littered with seemingly endless piles of plastic shopping bags. Streams and storm drains carry plastic bags to the ocean where they are frequently mistaken as food and ingested by marine life. Over 267 species worldwide have been impacted by plastic litter such as plastic bags.4 The world’s largest ocean garbage dump in the North Pacific is currently estimated to be over twice the size of Texas, where densities of bits of plastic trash have tripled during the last decade. It is estimated that 80% of marine debris comes from land-based sources, the majority of which is comprised of plastic materials.
In addition to their support, HtB also suggested some further proposals of their own to really take the ordinance to the next level — the inclusion of “biodegradable” plastics in the ban, for instance, or noncompliance penalties, and even possibly a fee on paper bags which, though better than plastic, present environmental hazards and costs of their own:
We also recommend that the City include a fee on paper carryout bags in its ordinance, consistent with the City of Santa Monica staff recommendation for action on single-use carryout bags. State law does not currently preclude cities from imposing fees on paper bags, only plastic bags. As the most ubiquitous alternative to plastic, paper bags are themselves fraught with environmental impacts. The production of paper bags contributes to natural resource depletion, greenhouse gas emissions and additional waterborne wastes from the pulping and paper making process. A paper bag fee is critical in driving the use of the most sustainable option, reusable bags, rather than shifting consumer use from plastic to paper carryout bags.
There is still a long road ahead for the ordinance, as there is with all legislation in need of passing; that said, with as formidable a force as Heal the Bay behind it, it ought to prove a tough one to keep down.