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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

San Francisco Looks To Expand Bag Ordinance.

On Tuesday, San Francisco’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee voted 3-0 to approve San Francisco’s proposed expanded plastic bag ordinance.  Committee approval means that the ordinance may now be voted on by the full Board of Supervisors, which is expected in early December.  The new ordinance would apply to all retailers and restaurants and includes a ban on plastic bags and a 10-cent minimum charge on all paper and reusable bags provided at the register, which increases to 25 cents one year after implementation.   The charge on reusable bags in addition to paper bags is particularly important so that no bags are given away for free at checkout.

As mentioned in a previous post, in 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the US to adopt a plastic bag ban.  San Francisco’s ban currently only applies to supermarkets and large pharmacies.  This is referred to as a “first generation” ordinance because it only addresses plastic bags.  More recently, “second generation” ordinances that include a charge on paper bags have become standard in California.  In 2010, Supervisor Mirkarimi introduced an expanded “second generation” ordinance, but that was tabled pending resolution of lawsuits in other cities regarding what type of review was required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  CEQA has been used as a tool by plastics industry groups in California to delay or overturn plastic bag ordinances by filing lawsuits against cities demanding that expensive Environmental Impact Reports (EIR) are required.

In July of this year, the California Supreme Court ruled on the Manhattan Beach case, finding that Manhattan Beach’s negative declaration was sufficient and that an EIR was not necessary.  In September of this year, the Marin County Superior Court found that a categorical exemption was applicable to Marin’s ordinance.  Part of the reason that Marin’s ordinance qualified for a categorical exemption was because it is a second generation ordinance that addresses paper as well as plastic by banning plastic bags and requiring a minimum 5-cent charge for paper bags.  In the wake of these decisions, San Francisco made the decision to move forward with its expanded ordinance using a categorical exemption.

On November 1, 2011, Supervisor Mirkarimi re-introduced the revised expanded ordinance and the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee hearing soon followed.

At the hearing, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce spoke in support and made clear that the current version of the ordinance (that included minor amendments introduced at the Committee hearing) was a product of outreach to the business community over the previous week.  The small amendments made to the ordinance based on input from the business community go to show that outreach to businesses is important and that sometimes it can just be a matter of making sure that businesses understand the details of the ordinance and other times making minor to address particular issues.

For example, the most recent revisions to San Francisco’s ordinance include a clarification that garment bags may qualify as reusable bag even if they do not have handles, an exemption from the checkout bag charge for left-over food eaten at a sit down restaurant, and refinements to the reusable bags standard. Through reaching out to local business groups and determining what the issues were and how the issues could be addressed, San Francisco was able to produce a strong ordinance with broad support.

At the hearing, Save the Plastic Bag Coalition (SPBC), an association composed primarily of plastic bag manufacturers that have sued or threatened to sue almost every California city that has formally considered adopting a plastic bag ordinance, filed objections.   SPBC was the only group that spoke in opposition to the ordinance.

The ordinance is expected to be heard before the full Board of Supervisors in early December.

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

It is time to BAN all Plastic Bags San Francisco!

IMPORTANT. On next Monday, November 14, 2011 at 10AM, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ City Operations and Neighborhood Services committee will consider an expansion of the existing San Francisco Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance that banned single-use plastic bags in large grocery stores and pharmacies in 2007. The expansion would ultimately ban single-use plastic bags in all retailers and restaurants in the City of San Francisco and place a 10-cent charge on paper bags. The efforts would further encourage the use of reusable bags and supports San Francisco’s goal of achieving zero waste by 2020.

For understanding the evolution of common sense policies on plastic waste reduction,  the San Francisco case study is exceptionally important.  Many municipalities have enacted plastic bag bans without addressing paper or smaller retailers.  Often, though, the people and city officials have the will to act, it can be politically challenging to impose a fee as industry goons will spend heavily to defeat the measure with ‘anti-tax’ strategies.  Activists are ahead of the game on this, however, looking to enact a ban policy first, then revisit it in a year’s time or so,  in order to make the policy more effective at curbing the use of disposables.  San Francisco is at the forefront of players employing this strategy— watch how it unfolds, it’s destined to set precedent within the anti-single use plastics movement.

Please support the efforts by signing and sharing the following SF Surfrider Action Alert: here.

Carolynn Box, SF Surfrider


My, my, it’s getting nearly impossible to keep track of how many ban the bag ordinances are popping up all over the United States or the world, for that matter.  Everyday here at BTB BLOG HQ, I’m told of yet another initiative and consequently, yet another lawsuit filed by the ACC or one of it’s derivatives is trying to unpack the progress we as a society are beginning to make.  For all the slings and arrows we face as activists, all I can say is this people, ‘keep on keep it on.’ To date, 25% of the world has enacted policy to reduce or eliminate plastic bag consumption.  A decade ago, that number was zero.  So hey, if you get frustrated, just remember, every action you make contributes to the movement, and even if you lose your own effort, know that you’re paving the way for another to clench victory.  We’re all in this together and we all subscribe to the belief that shifting to sustainable behaviors is the only hope we got of keeping this planet a place where we can live.

Idaho: I believe the children are our future.

Ban The Bag Blog contributor, Jennie Romer, wrote this fabulous piece on her site,  Here’s and excerpt that should be inspiring:

W.A.T.E.R. (We Appreciate the Earth’s Resources) – a high school club aimed at raising awareness of environmental issues – gathered enough signatures to get a plastic bag ordinance on the November 8th ballot in the City of Hailey, Idaho.”

Okay, these are HIGH SCHOOL KIDS. If they can do it, so can YOU.  Jennie is going to write later this week on how it all turned out in Idaho.


Well, down in Newport, Oregon, (home to NOAA by the way) a couple of city council members there have turned coat on what looked like a slam dunk for The Ban The Bag movement. What’s weird is that two council members flipped their vote to go forward with an ordinance stating reasons, the veracity of which, is in question. I obtained this letter from Charlie Plybon, Oregon Field Coordinator for The Surfrider Foundation, making a public records request for letters referenced that have apparently changed the councilmen’s minds.  I SMELL A RAT!  Here’s the situation, and it’s relevant to YOU, and your MOVEMENT, because it teaches you how TO FIGHT BACK:

At Issue:

Council member Dean Sawyer, backed by council member David Allen led the way to repeal the Oct 17th motion to draft an ordinance to ban plastic bags in Newport.  Over 40 supporters of a ban on plastic bags showed up last night and showed support yet again. In addition, 40 people emailed the city council yesterday supporting a ban on plastic bags, only 1 letter was opposed. So why is the city council not listening to the public, how did we get here? If you are puzzled, you’re not the only one. Please ask city council members Dean Sawyer,David AllenJeff Bertuleit, and Richard Beemer who they are representing and why they have decided not to listen to you (or email the city Now is a great time for letters to the editor at Newport News times (

Below, IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE, a letter from Charlie Plybon:

“At the city council meeting tonight several statements were made and letters/discussions referenced that supported the council’s decision making process this evening on the plastic bag ordinance motion. On behalf of the Newport Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, I’d like to respectfully request the following in accordance with Oregon’s public records law and as provided by ORS 192.4201(1).

1) Councilor Sawyer made reference to an email/letter characterized as non-supportive from Thriftway (a regional grocery store) on a plastic bag ordinance. We’d like a copy of that email. We’d be happy to supply the council with our attempted correspondence with Thriftway over the past two months.

2) Reference was made to letters and emails of opposition to drafting an ordinance. We’d like a copy of those emails. If we are to surmount issues or concerns that individuals have with an ordinance, we need to know who they are so we can effectively do outreach with them and discuss their concerns.

3) Reference was made to not hearing any support from Fred Meyer and Safeway (two other regional grocery stores). We’d like documentation on that lack of support, as we worked very hard to gain that support.”

As you can see, it’s a weird situation. One of the key ingredients to running a solid campaign is getting the Grocer’s Association in your area onboard. The opinions of the grocers may vary from region to region, but all the grocery stores referenced in this article have shown support for plastic bag policies. What grocers want, is a model ordinance in each municipality were policy will go on the books.  Why? Because unlike the ACC, they know that it’s dumb to fight the inevitable. This makes their bag distribution easier– a patchwork of ordinances makes them grumpy.  Keep that in mind—

The Ban The Bag Blog is following this story, and we’ll keep you updated as the situation evolves.

Stiv Wilson, Portland Chapter.

How Litter Enters Your Ocean: A Sewage Journey

San Francisco’s sewage and stormwater are treated together in a combined sewer system made up of over 1,000 miles of underground pipes. Combined sewer systems are rare, there are only 772 left in the United States, and they exist mainly in America’s oldest cities. San Francisco is one of two cities in California and is the only coastal city with such a system. San Francisco’s pipes are over one hundred years old and many sections are built of bricks that are fragile and in need of repair.

Aside from the potential problems summarized in San Francisco’s 2030 Sewer System Master Plan, the combined sewer system captures 90% of the sewer and stormwater on an average (non-rainy) day. This ends up being about 80 million gallons of wastewater per day. The wastewater is treated at two water treatment plants that pump the treated wastewater offshore from outfall pipe off the beach.  The California Regional Water Quality Control Board (Water Board) sets requirements for pollutant levels discharged into California waters. Through this process, the wastewater is filtered, meaning trash is removed prior to discharge.

Larger problems arise on rainy days when the combined sewer system, which can handle close to 500 million gallons per day, is stressed by large quantities of rainwater. Several stormwater holding tanks are located around the City that when pressed on rainy days will overflow directly into the Bay and ocean, carrying pollutants and litter.

An obvious technique to control the situation is to reduce stormwater entering the system. Surfrider’s Plant Don’t Pave Project encourages locals to replace non-permeable surfaces, mostly concrete with permeable surfaces. San Francisco Surfrider partners with the Friends of the Urban Forest on expanding efforts to grow native plants in areas that were once covered in concrete. Simply, if runoff and water use is reduced, less wastewater will be in the system hopefully prolonging and reducing overflow times, meaning less trash would flow out to the oceanic gyres.

Specifically, 10% of San Francisco’s stormwater is not pumped into the combine sewer system and covered under another Water Board permit. Because California does not yet have a state-wide limit for trash entering water bodies, trash particles that may be entering the ocean from these storm drains are not monitored, which is true in many coastal cities. On a positive note, 77 of San Francisco Bay’s municipalities are included in an impressive permit requiring trash levels entering the Bay through storm drains be reduced to zero by 2022. There are similar requirements on the L.A. River where trash reductions are required. The hope is state-wide policy requiring trash reductions will become reality in the next couple of years.

Until then, efforts that continue to show that beach litter is a significant problem will help support the needed state-wide policy to limit trash entering our oceans. Last Saturday, over 70 volunteers at the Baker Beach Cleanup were the first to log litter as part of our new effort to catalog  trash at our monthly beach cleanups. The test-run found students and families interested in participating in “community science ” and hundreds of extremely small pieces of styrofoam and over 500 cigarette butts were picked up by the group.

Carolynn Box, San Francisco Surfrider

Cost Per Plastic Bag To Cleanup: LA Case Study.

Today, I was tagged in a tweet from a fellow ocean lover mentioning Los Angeles’s latest effort to stop trash in the watershed from getting to the ocean. The story, which appears in The Los Angeles Times made my head spin a bit.  It details the problem of Southern California’s litter entering the ocean through drainages and how massive that outflow actually is.  Never mind the incredible amount of trash we’re talking about making its way to the sea, I’m more interested in the costs of preventing it from happening.  These costs are the real doozy. According the article, 16 different cities in Southern California hope is to install mesh screens and such to stop 840,000 pounds of garbage entering the ocean each year. How much does this cost?  A cool 10 million dollars in stimulus money—  now, let’s call the stimulus money tax revenue— (but we know it’s probably borrowed, so we, as taxpayers are paying interest on that amount, too)—  that is, to put it very simply, money that you and I pay to government for public works projects.

But what does this mean?

Let’s start breaking these numbers down into something meaningful:

$10,000,000 divided by 840,000 = $11.90 per one pound of trash to clean out of or prevent from going into a given watershed. Let’s call it $12/a pound for sake of argument.

A plastic bag weighs anywhere from 8 to 60 grams depending on its construction. As an exercise, let’s break this down further.  Again, for the sake of the argument (where we give the plastic bag itself the benefit of the doubt) we’ll keep our estimation of the plastic bag’s weight at the very low end of the scale, eight grams.  There are roughly 453 grams in a pound.  So, if we divide 453 grams by 8 grams (which represents the weight of one plastic bag) we get roughly 57 plastic bags per pound. So now, breaking this down even further, we’ll represent $12.00 as 1,200 pennies.  If it costs us 1,200 pennies to prevent or clean out one pound of garbage, and that garbage is plastic bags, it means per weight that plastic bags cost a significant amount of money to recover per bag.  Dividing 1,200 pennies by 57 (the amount of plastic bags in one pound of garbage) we get a whopping 21 cents per bag of taxpayer money!  Holy Moly!

Granted, there is certainly going to be other plastic and styrofoam products caught, but the intent here, clearly, is to prevent synthetics from entering the sea, not organic material such as wood and plants (or paper bags for that matter). What’s at the crux of this is simple: we’re paying, you and me, to clean up a mess that burdens the commons, made by companies that are not required by law to mitigate their impacts on the environment or our pocket books. That’s not right.

Stiv Wilson, Portland Chapter

Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley is a Hotbed for Plastic Bag Ordinances

Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley is a hotbed of activity for plastic bag ordinances.  On September 27, 2011, the Town of Basalt voted to place a 20-cent charge on plastic and paper checkout bags.  On October 11, 2011, the Aspen City Council voted to ban plastic checkout bags and place a 20-cent charge on paper checkout bags.  On October 25, 2011 Town of Carbondale adopted an ordinance modeled after Aspen’s ordinance.

One of the reasons behind all of this activity in Colorado is the result of a bit of friendly competition.  Back in 2008, Telluride and Aspen took part in a “Aspen-Telluride Reusable Bag Challenge” where residents in both communities competed to see how many times they could bring reusable bags to the grocery store.  Telluride won the competition, which was particularly impressive because Telluride is only half the size of Aspen.  Then Telluride beat Aspen to passing a plastic bag ordinance – Telluride’s ordinance was adopted last October.  No doubt, the competition encouraged Aspen to pass its ordinance.

Aspen still gets something to brag about though.  Aspen’s ordinance is a stronger in that it includes a higher charge for paper bags (20 cents in Aspen, 10 cents in Telluride), which should act as a greater incentive for customers to bring their own reusable bags.

Adoption of these ordinances seemed to be moving along very smoothly, but just last week a citizen of Basalt filed the initial paperwork to overturn Basalt’s charge by voter referendum.  If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because that’s what was threatened with Telluride’s ban and, most famously, that’s what happened to Seattle’s 20-cent charge back in 2008.  In Seattle, The Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax spent more than $1.4 million, which included the American Chemistry Council’s contributions of more than $1 million.  Seattle’s charge was the first of its kind in the US and the plastic industry was desperate to not have a precedent for plastic bag charges.  The plastics industry won and Seattle’s bag charge was rescinded.  Since that time, the momentum for passing plastic bag ordinances has regained momentum, but the plastics industry’s resistance (particularly in California) still remains strong.

Fortunately, the threatened referendum in Telluride never came to fruition (the final paperwork was never filed) and Telluride’s ordinance went into effect on March 3, 2011.

The referendum route (or at least the threat of a referendum) seems to be popular in Colorado, perhaps due in part to relatively small population  sizes in the towns that have passed ordinances, which means that a small amount of signatures are needed to get such issues on the ballot (10 percent of the electorate).  For example, in Basalt the petitioner only has to collect 230 signatures from Basalt registered voters.  Once all of those signatures are collected, the Town Council must decide whether to rescind the ordinance or set an election on the issue.

Regardless, Colorado is moving forward with plastic bag ordinances and inspiring other jurisdictions to do the same.  Up next?  Boulder is considering an ordinance.

– Jennie R. Romer, Esq., Founder & Director, Plastic Bag Laws Dot Org

Plastic Wars on CNN Tonight!

Check out CNN tonight for’Plastic Wars.’ Part of the program will investigate plastic bag litter off the coast of California, diving through kelp forests looking at the havoc plastic bags cause.

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

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