12 Minutes

Bag Photo from Save Our Shores

Twelve minutes is the average use time of a plastic bag…and by now, most of us know that these lightweight bags — even when placed in trash cans — can be blown into gutters and end up in creeks and storm drains, and eventually into the bay and our ocean.

So it is great to hear about city after city in California, continuing to ban the use of single-use plastic bags!

Bans at Bay Area cities will help keep plastic bags from ending up in our bay.

The plastic bag ban for the city of San José — largest city in the Bay Area and third largest in California — took effect on January, 1, 2012.

Kristin Giammona pulls out her reusable bag to pack her groceries at the Lunardi's market in San José, Calif. on Monday, Jan. 2, 2012. Helping her at right is cashier, Chris Silva. San José's ban on the use of plastic bags goes into affect beginning on 2012. (Gary Reyes/ Mercury News)

San Jose residents are getting use to bringing their reusable bags for grocery shopping (and grumbling when they forget and have to pay for paper bags).

There are exemptions…and the San José plastic bag ban does not apply to restaurants, so you will still get plastic bags and Styrofoam containers when getting take out or food to go.

Which means, it is up to us – the individual consumers  — to change our habits to further cut plastic bag and Styrofoam box use.

Despite the exemptions, some restaurant owners are taking it upon themselves to use environment friendly food packaging.  If you are interested in ideas for a restaurant environmental policy, please view my post on California’s foam packaging ban and click on the link to Gayles Bakery & Rosticceria.

The city of Monterey’s plastic bag ban takes effect in June, 2012.

The challenge — for all of us really — is remembering to bring our reusable bags with us when shopping.

In Monterey, we spotted these signs at the Whole Foods parking lot at the Del Monte Center center last year.

More recently, we saw the same reminder signs now up at the Pharmaca / Trader Joe’s parking lot, in downtown, Old Monterey.

With the work that environment and conservation groups around the Bay Area — and beyond — are doing to clean up our shores and oceans, photos of wildlife entangled in plastic bags or other plastic material, will hopefully be a rare thing, or even better, forever in the past.Additional Plastic Pollution Resources and Related Links:

Save Our Shores website – Plastic Bag Ban Fact Sheet Over the last 30 years, Save Our Shores has been responsible for key accomplishments such as preventing offshore oil drilling in Central Coast waters, helping to establish the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, preventing local cruise ship pollution, and bringing together diverse stakeholders to find common solutions to ocean issues

Earth Resource FoundationI AM THE PROBLEM, I AM THE SOLUTION” – Founded in 1999, Earth Resource Foundation (ERF) is an environmental educational non-profit organization developed to empower the general public with the resources to make environmentally  sustainable choices and changes.

Save The Bay (San Francisco) is the largest regional organization working to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay.  Save the Bay was founded in 1961, as “Save San Francisco Bay Association” by three East Bay women who were watching the Bay disappear before their eyes.  Kay Kerr, Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick set out to stop the City of Berkeley’s plan to double in size by filling in the shallow Bay off-shore. They mobilized thousands to stop the project, and their resounding victory was repeated on Bay fill projects around the region.

Algalita Marine Research Foundation (AMRF) Charles Moore founded AMRF in 1994 to focus on the “coastal ocean”, specifically on the restoration of disappearing giant kelp forests and the improvement of water quality through the preservation and re-construction of wetlands along the California coast.

The U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Association (NOAA’s) Marine Debris Program Marine debris is everyone’s problem. It is a global problem affecting everything from the environment to the economy; from fishing and navigation to human health and safety; from the tiniest coral polyps to giant blue whales.

Marine debris also comes in many forms, from a cigarette butt to a 4,000-pound derelict fishing net.

World Watch Institute – Vision for a Sustainable WorldWorldwatch Institute delivers the insights and ideas that empower decision makers to create an environmentally sustainable society that meets human needs. Worldwatch focuses on the 21st-century challenges of climate change, resource degradation, population growth, and poverty by developing and disseminating solid data and innovative strategies for achieving a sustainable society.

The Plastic Pollution Coalition is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals and the environment.  With its work, Plastic Pollution seeks to put plastic pollution at the forefront of global social, environmental and political discourse.

Keep Monterey Clean – Litter is a problem in our community.  Monterey County is one of the most beautiful spots in California yet a trip on area roadways can reveal medians, roadsides, and parking lots strewn with litter. Litter is not only an eyesore, it poses health risks, impacts our coastal waters and is costly to cleanup.   The Monterey Regional Waste Management District has created this website to help solve the problem and to recognize the great work many businesses and civic groups are doing to help keep Monterey County clean.

Senator Lowenthal’s Bill to Ban Foam Containers in California

If signed into law, a bill by state Senator Alan Lowenthal would make California the first state to ban polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers, beginning in 2016.

There are already more than 50 cities and counties in California that ban these containers, including the city of Salinas.

The Santa Cruz based Save Our Shores website lists why polystyrene is a threat to communities:

  1. Polystyrene contains toxic chemicals that can leach out of the material into hot foods and beverages that humans consume
  2. In most cities, polystyrene cannot be recycled and it is not compostable
  3. Polystyrene never fully biodegrades and thus easily become litter, costing communities economically and environmentally.

Which is why I find it hard to believe that there are opponents to this bill — and find the negative responses short-sighted.  An article by Sheila Kumar of the Associated Press in yesterday’s Monterey Herald reported that opponents of the bill

  • say that it fails to address the root cause of litter — the litterers themselves.
  • and that litterers will toss out the containers whether they’re made of polystyrene or biodegradable cardboard (this according to Michael Westerfield, corporate director of recycling for Dart Container) and “At the end of the day, people that litter don’t care what type of product they’re littering” .

So, OK… I agree on the littering issue — and we need to look at why people litter, but Mr. Westerfield misses the point if you want to look at the litterer as a root cause to address.

  • If there is litter (such as on purpose litter by litter bugs, or by accident litter, e.g., because the container is blown away), the difference is really the litter material.  If the packaging material biodegrades in a few months time, then litter is a smaller problem than if it is a plastic material –Styrofoam being a form of plastic– that can take hundreds of years to break down and cause problems if washed out to sea.
  •  We have 840 miles of coastline in California.  A lot of plastic trash that gets into sewers, or that washes away during heavy rains can end up on our beaches—-and in the ocean.

The article cited one restaurant alone –BJ’s Kountry Kitchen — that uses about 26,000 of the 9 inch foam Styrofoam clamshell a year for customer take-out.  This is ONE restaurant!  Would you rather they use biodegradable — or Styrofoam containers, especially if the containers end up in the hands of these litterers?

The article further states:

  • The California Chamber of Commerce has labeled the measure as one of its “job killer bills” saying it threatens manufacturing jobs while increasing costs for restaurants that will have to spend more on alternative containers.

A job killer?  How about alternate manufacturing jobs focused on green, biodegradable packaging, or an altogether new packaging technology?

And with regard to increased costs by restaurants on alternative containers…..well, let us think outside the take-out box on this point.

If a restaurant starts a campaign to educate customers on the problems with litter and added costs of packaging, and introduces concepts on reducing packaging, bringing their own “take-out” food containers, then over time, wouldn’t their “take-out” packaging costs actually be reduced?

What did people do BEFORE throw away plastics and Styrofoam containers?  The restaurant probably had earth friendly options for take-out packaging, or customers brought their own containers to restaurants.

Already, Gayles Bakery & Rosticceria — a certified Monterey Bay Area Green Business, in business for over 30 years — advertises on the radio and on their website to bring your own food container for take-out orders. Their website at www.gaylesbakery.com, lists their environmental policy as well as tips on their efforts to reduce food packaging.  To encourage this shift in how take-out food is packaged, they have weekly drawings for a $100 gift card when you bring your own bag, food containers or mugs for take-out.

If we distill the reasons for opposition and objections to pro-environment type legislation…it becomes clear the reason is of selfishness, and, well….being short-sighted and not thinking about the future (and other) inhabitants of this planet.  Otherwise why would you NOT want to support making changes for the good of the planet, and so our children and grandchildren will have a clean and healthy environment to live in?

We all have to make sacrifices for the greater good, and to prevent our environment from being loaded up with toxic plastic waste (plastic is so new to our system that there are no microbes in nature that can truly break it down — read the  recently published book “Plastic” A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel).

And if that means more initial costs for biodegradable take out boxes, then so be it.  At least until we make a shift in our habits, and rethink the true cost of our throw-away society.

What do you think about this bill to ban Styrofoam containers?   Should restaurants impose a fee on take-out containers or give you a credit / discount or freebie if you bring your own containers?