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(Editor’s Note: The above attack ad was created by Hilex Poly, a plastic bag importer and manufacturer who has been at the forefront of the plastic bag debate. The ad is purposely misleading and demonstrates Hilex’s campaign of misinformation and deceit. It also demonstrates their increasing desperation and aggression. The tide has turned in the public’s popular will to ban the bag, and we’re winning. Conscious of this fact, Hilex’s tactics have become increasingly more cynical. Expect more of the same or worse.)

Seattle city council unanimously passed a ban on plastic bags on December 19th, 2012. We now join the ranks of other forward-thinking cities worldwide (Portland, Bellingham, DC, San Francisco, to name a few) who have banned single-use plastic bags. The ordinance, based on the Bellingham, WA, ordinance passed earlier this year, bans plastic bags at checkout in all retail stores, but allows for bag use in the meat and produce departments. It also requires grocers to charge five cents for the use of a paper bag at checkout; this fee is waived for people on food assistance programs.

This is a common sense ordinance, enacted for common sense reasons. We Seattle-ites take pride in our beautiful Puget Sound, in our clean, green parks, and in our progressive policies. This ban confirms all of those positive things about our city and our values, but it was passed for straightforward economic reasons. The city needs to reduce the waste we generate so we can save money processing that waste, and it needs to reduce the amount of garbage on our streets and on our beaches to cut the cost of cleaning it all up. To quote a Washington State legislative finding, it is: “necessary to change manufacturing and purchasing practices and waste generation behaviors to reduce the amount of waste that becomes a governmental responsibility”. That’s it in a nutshell. Those bags may seem like they’re free when a grocery clerk hands you one for your pack of gum, and they may seem like a real bargain when you re-use them (once) to contain your other trash or your dog’s business, but their actual cost to taxpayers is high. Like all other plastic products the responsibility for their ultimate disposal does not lie with the companies who produce them, it lies with you and me, regardless if we consume plastic bags or not, and in Seattle we would rather not pay to pick up Hilex Poly’s trash. And as of July, 2012 we won’t have to.

Abigail McCarthy/ Seattle Surfrider Chapter


Success stories on banning plastic bags are happening all over the world, including Asia, India, Australia, and Europe. Several Cities in the United States are also starting to ban single use plastic bags. Plastic bag bans have been initiated and implemented by governments, cities, non-profits, and environmental organizations.

Typically when people think of the plastic bag bans, they think of the marine life plastic kills. What they don’t realize is how much oil it takes to make those bags, and the other environmental hazards they cause in addition to threatening our own health and safety. Plastic bags block storm drains contributing to floods, leak toxic chemicals into our water and soil, as well as killing marine life, birds, and cows by starvation and suffocation. 1998, in Bangladesh, plastic bags were discovered to be the main cause of the devastating floods. There were over 1000 deaths in 1998 as two thirds of the country was submerged. In 2002, Bangladesh became the first country to ban all plastic shopping bags. Also, in the city of Mumbai, officials say storm drains clogged with littered plastic shopping bags were partially to blame for disastrous floods in 2005 that killed more than 400 people. Now in Mumbai, the plastic bags are totally illegal. In South Africa, before plastic bags were banned in 2003, the bags were nicknamed the national “flower” as so many bags littered the roadsides, stuck to fences and trees. That year, the government passed one of the strictest bans in existence: a fine of $13,800 dollars or a ten year jail sentence on bags thinner than 30 microns (thicker bags are easier to recycle) (Web 2011, Fair Companies).

In the United States, attempts by legislators to ban or restrict the use of plastic bags have been derailed several times in recent years by lobbying by plastics manufacturers. But recently, just as of October 15, 2011, the City of Portland has banned single-use plastic bags at major grocery outlets. A similar ban has gone into effect in cities such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In D.C., January of 2010, after a five-cent fee went into effect, the result was seen in only five months with a 60 percent reduction in plastic bag litter in the Anacostia River (2011, Washington City Paper).

In other countries, such as China, positive environmental effects were seen almost immediately. Only one year after the ban in China, it is estimated that 1.6 million tons of oil has been saved from not producing the plastic bags. The China Chain Store Franchise Association estimated it as saved the country of 40 billion plastic bags, reducing plastic bag use by two-thirds (2009, The Guardian).

In Ireland, in 2002, a tax was placed on every single bag in the country. This reduced plastic bag use by 90 percent in the first year and raised 18 million dollars for recycling efforts (2007, CNB News).

It is difficult to enforce the bag bans especially when they are not consistent and vary from city to city and state to state. A key part is public education and awareness. It is changing consumer habits. As more cities and people get on board, I believe we will see a growing positive change. Just think of all the oil, birds, cows, people, and marine life we have saved already. I believe the plastic bag ban is very sustainable as it encourages people to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Lisa Lynch, Portland Chapter, Surfrider Foundation


(photo courtesy of

About twenty Surfrider volunteers joined People for Puget Sound, the Sierra Club, Environment Washington, and numerous private citizens to support the proposed ban on single-use plastic bags in Seattle at the Seattle city council meeting on December 5th, 2011. You can watch the public hearing here, if you so desire.

Four city council members were in attendance, with the sponsor of the proposed ban, Mike O’Brien, moderating the meeting. Surfrider’s Shannon Serrano started off the hearing with a brief explanation of what Surfrider stands for and who we are, followed by our reasons for wanting to ban the bag. Much of the testimony that followed Shannon’s was along the same lines: love for the ocean and a desire to share it with future generations combined with a strong sense of personal responsibility towards the environment and a belief that our daily choices affect the world around us. Speakers also made points about cutting down the city’s waste stream, saving money, reducing dependence on fossil fuels, toxic compounds leaching from plastic bags, and the ease of using reusable bags. Both the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and the NW Grocery Association (which includes QFC, Fred Meyers, and Safeway) spoke out in support of the proposed ban (both organizations were a part of the development of the ban), because it includes provisions for lower-income groups and because it’s not limited to just grocery stores–  it includes other retail outlets, which is similar to what is being proposed in San Francisco, as an update to their seminal bag ban. A gentleman from the Grocery Worker’s union spoke in support of the ban, saying that he felt that while it might impact the grocery baggers’ productivity, they supported the ban as it was a step in the right direction.

There was opposition, too. The majority of the opposition were employed by the plastics industry; a few spoke rather forcefully about their personal desire to continue using plastic bags for “free” or missed the point entirely by focusing on the evils of paper bags. There was also some discussion by the opposition about increasing recycling, although it’s clear that a bag ban will in no way decrease the amount of recycling done in Seattle– but will actually increase its efficiency.

One of my favorite moments in the hearing was when a whole family came up to give testimony in support of the ban. The children had asked that their mother and father to bring them to the hearing because they thought it was “ridiculous to use a material that endures forever for single use disposable items”. The mother spoke for her daughters when she said they were upset about the pacific garbage patch and they wanted to reduce their impact on the ocean. A student from the University of Washington spoke eloquently about how this law would help her generation change cultural norms and behaviors, and so many people spoke about taking responsibility for their own impacts on the planet.

The satisfaction I feel is not without a little bit irony.  Industry opposition defeated a bag ban by pouring more than a million dollars into misinformation campaigns just a few years ago.  Well, this time we’re going to win, and we’re going to win way bigger than we won three years ago and it’s nice to know that no matter how much money industry spends, they can’t stop the wave of common sense policies around disposable plastics.  The tide has turned, and we’re riding it.  For ordinance language, click here.

Abigail McCarthy, Seattle Surfrider Foundation Chapter.


(image via Inhabitat)

(editor’s note:  Ban The Bag Blogger, Julie Lawson was recently quoted in a Huffington Post article where the writer called Washington D.C.’s fee on plastic bags, ‘tax revenue.’ We’re pretty sure that steam came out of Julie’s ears, so Julie decided to write a post on unpacking industry rhetoric with regard to bag fees and what the actual definition of a tax is. What might seem like a simple mistake by a green blogger actually has huge implications for the movement as a whole. For example, industry defeated a Seattle Bag Ban in 2008 by lobbying against a ‘tax measure.’  No doubt the writer who penned the piece was unaware of the difference, and later dismissed an email from me attempting make the distinction for him. Thanks Julie for setting the record straight. And for all you people out there fighting the good fight, listen up.)

The most common refrain from industry’s echo chamber on a proposed bag fee is:  “it’s a tax,” and taxes, as we all know, is politically a very bad word. Even among fellow advocates, it seems like I am constantly correcting people when they refer to “Washington, DC’s bag tax.” It’s a fee, and I’m not just being a hard-ass worried about appearances when I correct people. They really are two different things.

The five cents charged for single-use plastic and paper bags in DC is a fee because the purpose of the charge isn’t to raise revenue–it’s to encourage people to use reusable bags, and reduce the number of bags entering the waste/recycling/litter stream. Also, the proceeds are tied directly to the consequences of using that bag: litter prevention and river restoration.

As described by the Tax Foundation, and written by now US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in 1992, there are three tests to define a charge as a tax:

– who imposes the assessment

– who pays the assessment

– what the revenue is spent on

If the answer to each is broad (a legislative body vs. a regulatory body; the general public vs. specific users; and general revenue vs. specific fund), then it qualifies as a tax. DC’s bag fee only meets the first point. This distinction was clarified by the Virginia Supreme Court in 2008:

“When the primary purpose of an enactment is to raise revenue, the enactment will be considered a tax, regardless of the name attached to the act….”

As the Tax Foundation continues on its blog:

“The converse of that is that when the primary purpose of an enactment is to offset the cost of providing a service, it is a fee.”

Another way to look at the bag fee is as a user fee. Unlike a tax, you don’t have to pay it. People who choose single-use bags can pay for the privilege. Shoppers who decline to use a bag, or bring their own, don’t pay it. Now, to complicate matters, Montgomery County, Maryland, does officially call their five-cent bag charge an excise  tax, because it is applied to a specific good. They used this definition because of an unusual authority the county has to enact excise taxes without permission from the state’s General Assembly. (Prince George’s County does not have this authority, so they have to request permission just to consider a bag ordinance! However, Montgomery County still expects the revenues to diminish over time, and the proceeds are targeted to stormwater improvements and litter abatement. It still only meets the first of the three criteria for being a tax, as in DC.

So when confronted by industry shills that automatically bleats, “It’s a tax!” your simplest reply is: “No, the intent is not to raise revenue, and you don’t have to pay it if you don’t use the bag,” and if they press you, get a little nastier and say, “What’s at issue here is that it’s terrible that we have to impose a fee at all, shouldn’t YOU (industry) be paying to cleanup the mess your product creates in the environment? What we need is a tax on YOU, to shift the burden of cleanup from the taxpayer to the polluting industry that creates the mess in the first place.”

(Julie Lawson, Washington D.C. Surfrider)


You’ve got to give the American Chemistry Council some credit, they sure know how to whip up a frenzy in the media.  What the problem is, is that most of the media, even your beloved green blog, doesn’t actually do homework anymore.  Who can blame them?  Who has the time to actually sift through the studies the ACC funds to look at what the actual findings mean?  Well, the ACC does their homework, they have an annual budget of $124 million, at least.  And they write press releases that scare the living hell out of the public by cherry picking data that suits their cause, which is to ensure the bottom line of the industries they represent. I won’t mince words, this is just plain evil.

Here’s the skinny:  The American Chemistry Council funded a study (through the Progressive Bag Affiliates) on bacteria growth in reusable bags. They then took the results (which aren’t scary at all, which I’ll explain later) and sent out press releases to news organizations that dutifully reproduced the findings of the PRESS RELEASE without being fact checked or interpreted.  Even the Washington Post wrote up a little piece about it, entitled, Reusable Bags Found To Be Full Of Bacteria. But had they actually considered the report, indeed conducted an investigative analysis of it, they’d have entitled the story, ‘The Reusable Bag Scare Is Much Ado About Nothing, In A Cynical Ploy To Scare The Well Intentioned Citizen By Knowingly, And Shamelessly Hoodwinking Them.”

But rather than beat on the media, let’s get to the facts.  The study authored by University of Arizona researcher Charles Gerba et al, which you can read here, found that Heterotrophic Plate Count Bacteria (HPC) was found in all the used reusable bags except one.  SCARY!  YOU’RE GONNA DIE!!!! POUR BLEACH ALL OVER YOURSELF!!!! But here’s the thing— bacterial presence isn’t necessarily a BAD thing. Bacteria becomes bad when one species of bacteria takes over and kills all the other bacteria that’s keeping it in check. What goes on everyday on your eyelids, hands, in your mouth, your stomach, your blood is an epic standoff of bacteria playing out a physiological ‘checks and balances.’ HPC bacteria is, “a nonspecific term for the growth of viable, naturally occurring bacteria in water,” and researchers believe that HPC is actually a good thing in stuff like drinking water:  There even appears to be a consensus among experts that high concentrations of HPC bacteria will inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria, although this may not be the case with pathogenic viruses. So, expanding on this school of thought, it’s possible to conclude that from a microbiological perspective, it may be safer to actually encourage the growth of HPC bacteria in drinking water supplies.” What’s next? Is Coca-Cola going to fund a study that shows that tap water has high levels of bacteria and we should all be drinking Dasani?

Sorry, I digress, I’ll stick to to sticking it to the ACC. As the ACC would have you (YOU, THE STUPID CONSUMER THAT THEY THINK YOU ARE) believe, bacterial presence in anything means, YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IF YOU BAN PLASTIC BAGS.  But what’s a Washington Post journalist to do when he or she reads this from the report, “HPC bacteria ranged from 45 to greater than 800,000 per bag. Only one bag was negative for HPC bacteria.” Here’s what I’d suggest, call a damn biologist for god’s sake for a five minute conversation and let her set you straight. To any normal person without a biology degree, he or she would interpret this statement as, ‘very high counts of bacteria in reusable bags.’ But here’s the rub, as biology tells us, it’s not harmful and actually, it can be beneficial.  The study also concluded, from their whopping sample size of 84 bags (seriously, 84bags!!!!!!!!  Now, that’s some serious science going on boys and girls) that 12% of the bags sampled had E. coli. Well, surely, that’s GOT TO BE BAD! RUN FOR THE HILLS!  But again, the devil (The ACC, in this case) is in the details– NONE OF THE STRAINS OF E. COLI PRESENT ARE THE KINDS OF E. COLI THAT CAN HARM YOU.  Coliform bacteria are myriad in everything, everywhere.  But the kind found in these bags, yup, totally innocuos. But what about the bacteria that does make you sick?  The study attempted to find Salmonella and Listeria, but guess what?  They didn’t find it!!!!  Now, when the researchers artificially added meat juice to a bag and let sit for awhile, guess what happened?  HARMFUL BACTERIA GREW. Are you freaking kidding me?  What scientist on this planet needs to test whether meat juice if left unchecked on any surface or material would grow bacteria?  I’m going to scream!

Here’s my favorite quote on this whole debate, speaking about harmless strains of E. coli and other bacteria levels found in the Gerba study— From a Consumer Reports Researcher: “A person eating an average bag of salad greens gets more exposure to these bacteria than if they had licked the insides of the dirtiest bag from this study,” says Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union.

Here’s the take-away:  you have enough sense to wash your underwear, right?  Apply that sense to everything in your life and you’ll be just fine.

Stiv Wilson

Portland Surfrider Foundation Chapter

It’s Not Just About The Bag: Say ‘No Straw’ Please.

Data provided by leading plastic straw distributors suggest that more than 500 million plastic straws are used daily in the United States. Most plastic straws are used by the fast food industry and, in fact, it is estimated that McDonalds alone uses at least 60 million plastic straws daily (worldwide). Furthermore, plastic straws have become an integral, but not essential, part of the coffee and drinking culture in America.

Based on these facts, it is not surprising that data collected by the Ocean Conservancy during the Annual International Beach Cleanup Day found that plastic straws are one of the top 10 items picked up at beach cleanups worldwide.

The basic principle of the drinking straw dates back to the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia (a region that included now modern-day Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran) between 3000 – 5000 BC. Straws at this time were made of natural materials, like hollow stems of grass, and used to drink beer. The straw has also been prominent in South American countries since at least the 16th century when mate was discovered.

The modern day drinking straw was invented on January 3, 1888 by the American businessman Marvin Chester Stone, the owner of a factory that packaged cigarettes. Stone’s original drinking straw was paper and 8.5-inches long with a diameter just wide enough to prevent lemon seeds from being lodged in the straw. Stone’s cigarette factory began producing paper straws in 1906 when the paper straw machine was invented.

The flexible paper straw, a slight but important modification that increased popularity, was invented by American Joseph B. Friedman in 1938. Friedman first invented the flexible straw concept while watching his daughter attempt to drink a soda with a non-flexible straw in a San Francisco candy shop. The flexible straw was first marketed to hospitals and in high demand by 1947.

Paper straws were replaced with plastic in the 1960s when plastic became the cheapest and most durable material on the market. McDonalds led this effort by developing a new extra wide plastic drinking straw that quickly became a well-known luxury. Plastic straws were strong, reliable, never soggy and hip. The concept took off quickly and now plastic straws are available at prices that are not comparable to many of the alternatives.

Efforts are underway to reduce plastic straw consumption on international, national and local levels. A team of Vietnam pop stars, including My Tam, Doan Trang, Ha Okio, Pi Band,  Phan Anh, and Nguyen Khang, along with Tung Leo (MCs) and My Linh (TV host) have collaborated with in a Strawless Campaign to encourage the public to reduce and eliminate plastic straws from their lives.

A 9-year old New England boy started a straw-free campaign in his hometown elementary school that has gained national recognition and lead to the establishment of the Be Straw Free Organization. Be Straw Free promotes alternatives to plastic straws and encourages people to go strawless.

SF Surfrider volunteers have started an underground straw-free movement that encourages restaurant-goers, bar hoppers and coffee drinkers to ask for “no straw, please.” Some local progressive bars and coffee shops are ahead of the movement and already serving paper straws or compostable straws. The plan is to promote plastic strawfree establishments and get others onboard. We hate plastic straws here in San Francisco.

Stay tuned for Part Two: Economics and Straw Alternatives…

Carolynn Box

SF Surfrider

Hailey, Idaho Inspires New Environmental Leaders

Earlier this month, the plastic bag ban initiative in the city of Hailey, Idaho lost by 864 to 620.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the initiative was put on the ballot through a signature drive launched by the Wood River High School Environment Club (W.A.T.E.R).  This seemed like a great high school lesson in civics, until the plastics industry caught wind of it.  Suddenly, Hailey Idaho became ground zero in the plastics industry’s campaign against these laws.  Hilex Poly, a large plastic bag manufacturer, created a website and took out television and newspaper advertisements warning that 125 that jobs at a local plastics plant could be jeopardized by the ban. The students fought back by writing editorials to the local papers, but in the end the plastics industry prevailed.

It’s important for these students to remember that even though the initiative lost, this was still a huge accomplishment.  They should take pride that they did something so meaningful as to scare a big corporation into coming to their town of 6,200 residents and spending serious money.  Luckily, the students seem to be taking the loss in stride and are considering re-focusing their energies on a nearby town.  I am working on an interview with the Hailey students to discuss their future plans and how their story can and should be used as inspiration for other student environmental groups.

I’d like to highlight a few other student-led movements that are also inspirational.

Heal the Bay in Los Angeles is holding a Youth Leadership Training Day for students to learn how to support a reusable bag campaigns in their communities.  As mentioned in an earlier post by contributor (and Santa Monica High student) Jessica Kendall-Bar, Santa Monica High School’s environmental clubs have worked non-profits, including Heal the Bay and Surfrider Foundation, to establish the plastic bag ban in Santa Monica.  The Youth Leadership Training Day will give students the knowledge to help push bag bans forward in other Los Angeles County cities.

In Orange County (CA), the South Orange County Chapter of Surfrider currently has twelve high school Surfrider groups, where the students are mentored by adult Surfrider volunteers and executive committee members.  The students attend local city council meetings, participate in “Day Without a Bag” events, and travel to Sacramento to speak with legislators.

This news from Hailey should also inspire other small cities to move forward with putting plastic bag ordinances on the ballot.  For cities small cities with the political will (i.e. enough votes) to pass these ordinances, voter initiatives are a good option that is often overlooked.  This is particularly true in California, where voter initiatives do not fall under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) restrictions and therefore are not vulnerable to lawsuits by Save the Plastic Bag Coalition the way ordinances approved by city councils are.  That’s why the Town of Farifax chose to adopt its plastic bag ordinance pursuant to a voter initiative in 2008 after threat of a CEQA lawsuit.  To date, Fairfax is the only California municipality to adopt an ordinance via voter initiative.  Voter initiatives are a viable option for some communities – and they should be seriously considered.  Hilex Poly can’t pay to lobby against plastic bag initiatives in every small town . . . right?

– Jennie R. Romer, Esq., Founder & Director, plasticbaglaws [dot] org


I feel just a little better about democracy today.

Yesterday I listened to a city council member who I voted for say “Anything that we use for a couple of minutes should not stick around for hundreds of years!”

Commissioner Mike O’Brien was a staunch advocate for the original bag bill, which proposed a $.20 fee of which $.15 was devoted to new recycling programs and cleanups by the city of Seattle, and $.5 went to the grocery stores. The bag fee ordinance passed in city council in July 2008 (Ord. 122752), and then failed soundly when it was put to a vote in August of 2009. It’s a good lesson— industry calls the fee (which is collected to pay for the cost to taxpayers to deal with the waste the bag industry generates) a tax, fully aware of the political climate they can exploit to win cynically, appealing to anti-tax activists. And they’ll spend anything they have to on misinformation campaigns. What’s ironic is that the true cost to taxpayers comes at the end of life of a private corporation’s product–  cleanup. And it’s expensive.

At the hearing, I heard from four Seattle city council members, representatives from five different grocery store chains, a small business owner, representatives from environmental groups including Jody Kennedy from Surfrider Foundation, and a number of other community leaders voice their support for a Seattle city bag ban. The proposed ordinance would ban all single-use plastic grocery bags from all stores in the city of Seattle and would place a $.05 fee on paper bags–  that fee is waived for those using food stamps. Stores keep the $.05 for increased cost of paper.  I was impressed by the economic assessments offered by the grocers, both big and small; plastic bags are expensive and wasteful on every level, and if citizens brings their own bags, grocery stores can and will pass those savings to their customers. PCC, a high end grocery store,  eliminated plastic bags four years ago. At that time, ¼ of their shoppers used reusable bags. Now 2/3 do, and the numbers will continue to climb when all other grocery stores follow suit after the bag ban is put into effect in July 2012.

What remains to be seen is whether the American Chemistry Council and plastic bag manufacturer Hilex Poly can force and defeat a ballot measure again. Hilex Poly consistently touts ‘more recycling’, which will never be a solution because such an absurdly small proportion of plastic bags are recycled– the percentage is so small, no one even accurately can say what it is– but after Hilex Poly sued ChicoBag earlier this year, it came out that Hilex was including all polyethylene in their numbers including films and wraps.  After losing to Chico, they had to revise their numbers on bags, which is probably more in the order of fewer than 1% are recycled. Yikes.

Below is the letter I wrote to the editor of the Seattle Times, which they posted on their opinion blog:

Seattle council may ban plastic bags, Nov. 14, 2011

Dear Seattle Times editors:

The plastic bag ban has my support for both economic and environmental reasons. Plastic bags are difficult and expensive to recycle, they clog machines and sell for less than the labor used to sort and shred them. Plastic bags are made from petroleum, most of which we import from outside of the US. Plastic bags are toxic to marine and terrestrial life, and they kill anything that mistakenly consumes them. The country’s largest manufacturers of plastic bags, the ACC, spent 1.4 million dollars to defeat the bag fee here in seattle in 2008. They didn’t do it because they care about your freedom to put your dog’s poop in one of their bags, they did it because when it comes to plastic bags, they reap the profits and taxpayers pay the price. Tell big plastic to go the way of lead paint, DDT, and asbestos: bring your own bag.

-Abigail McCarthy

Seattle Surfrider Foundation Chapter

SAMOHI Students Paddle Out for a Bag-Free LA

On Saturday, November 19th, the students of the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club organized a “Paddle Out for a Bag Free LA” to draw attention to the current state of our beaches and the poor results of recent water quality testing by the club. This Paddle Out was modeled on the annual paddles the Surfrider Foundation has held in support of cleaner water.  The students received support from their adviser Benjamin Kay, Heal the Bay volunteers, the LA County Lifeguards, and the Aqua Surf school which donated boards and wetsuits for the students to use in the paddle. Team Marine , the Surf Team, and two other Samohi clubs also participated. The students congregated in the water to show their support for the Plastic Bag Ban for the greater Los Angeles area and cleaner ocean water in general.

On October 5th, the first heavy rains of winter broke through the sandbar that formed as a barrier between the polluted Pico-Kenter storm drain and the ocean. This led to many tons of water from our storm drains pouring onto the beach and into the ocean. The Heal the Bay Surfrider Club runs the “Teach and Test” water testing program which provides water quality results used by various businesses in Santa Monica, to show the levels of Enterococcus bacteria in the ocean water and indicate the risk of disease after exposure to it. The results that day showed that there were over ten thousand bacterial colonies in every one hundred milliliters of ocean water. This outcome shows the direct impact of LA’s runoff can have on the ocean and human life.

For several years, Santa Monica High School’s environmental clubs have worked tirelessly with non-profits to establish the plastic bag ban in Santa Monica. Through this event, the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club hopes to push Los Angeles City toward following in Santa Monica’s footsteps and ban plastic bags.

by Jessica Kendall-Bar (Senior at Santa Monica High School, Co-President of the Heal the Bay Surfrider Club)


(image courtesy of Inertia)

Last winter the Alice Ferguson Foundation commissioned a study of Washington, DC, residents and businesses to learn more about how the five-cent bag fee was being received after its implementation, January 1st, 2010. The study was funded by the District Department of the Environment. While littering is known to be a widespread problem (a previous AFF study found as many as 4 in 10 DC residents admit to actively littering), the bag fee has had a tremendous and immediate change in behavior, with 75 percent of residents reporting a reduction in their bag usage.

Perhaps even more important when making the case for a new bag ordinance is the fact that the bag fee is also very popular with businesses. The majority of surveyed businesses said their consumption of bags is at least 50 percent lower than in 2009, as a result of the fee. Only 12 percent reported a negative impact on their business–with the primary complaint surrounding customer education. None reported lower sales.

Instead, 78 percent of surveyed businesses have had neutral or positive experiences with the bag fee. Specifically they have observed a reduction in litter on their properties, and not-insignificant cost savings by not having to buy as many bags. Businesses ranging from sole proprietorships in low-income areas all the way up to large national chains give positive feedback. Marcia Levi, the owner of Chocolate Moose, a gift shop in downtown DC, said, “This little 5-cent fee has really raised the level of public awareness in not using bags unnecessarily. I am so thrilled at the way this has played out for both my business and the environment.” Books A Million reported saving $1,750 in 2010, just from purchasing fewer bags. Retailers, especially grocery stores, operate on such thin profit margins that simply reducing that one expense makes a big difference. Statistics are very compelling for campaigners facing opposition from business. Case studies, stats, and knowledge of implemented policies and their effect on the bottom line are the tools for a successful campaign and how to make friends out of enemies.  Studying the D.C. model is of utmost importance.

Julie Lawson, D.C. Surfrider

Portland Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Copyright © 2004–2009. All rights reserved.

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