Hooray! Hooray! Last week Santa Monica finally banned single-use plastic
carryout bags. It's definitely a big fraking deal. (Enough to get two hoorays!)
And just in case you're wondering why here's my opinion piece for the SM Observer
on exactly that subject.
Owning 2011: Banning the Bag
During the first couple weeks of 2011 I happened to come across a little
sign that was posted multiple times on my friends Facebook pages:
Now nowhere does this statement have more relevance to me than with the
amazing action last week of the Santa Monica city council banning single use
plastic bags. (And okay this saying doesn’t really use the word Frak but for
everyone looking for a PG column that might also be a Battlestar Galactica fan,
The basic details are this: As of September, plastic carryout bags will no
longer be available at any retailers in Santa Monica, except restaurants
providing food and liquids for takeout. Grocery stores and pharmacies would
only be able to distribute paper bags, so long as they contain at least 40%
post-consumer content. Shoppers who forget their reusable bags have the option
of purchasing paper bags at checkout for at least 10 cents each. Santa Monica’s
banning of the bag also includes shoppers at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Markets
who will no longer be provided single-use plastic or paper bags.
All this happened on Tuesday of last week; on Saturday I was strolling with
a friend on one of our city’s soon to be cleaner beaches and informed him of
this exciting action.
“What’s the big deal?” was his response. “I don’t really think any of those
things really make a bit of difference.”
What’s the big deal? What’s the big deal? The big deal is Fraking ownership,
that’s the big deal.
I can say I was never so proud of our city than at the moment I heard that
the ban had been passed. The most important thing we can do in our lives is
take a good long hard look at the world we’ve created around us and take
ownership of it. The banning of the bag was doing the right thing, by doing a
little thing that will make a big difference down the line. Perhaps you’ve
heard the Gandi quote, “be the change you want to see in the world.”
Plastic bags last hundreds of years (or longer!) and may never truly go
away. Our actions of today have ramifications for hundred and hundreds of year.
Plain and simple: plastic bags don’t biodegrade. Instead, they break down into
smaller and smaller pieces of plastic when exposed to sunlight and water, but
they will never truly disappear.
These single use plastic bags, which can be found blowing down Santa
Monica’s beaches, streets, and parks, make our neighborhoods look like dumps.
When these momentarily used bags enter the ocean, either through the storm
drains or by blowing across our beaches, they kill or injure ocean animals. In
fact, they are frequently eaten by marine mammals, fish, and seabirds who
mistake them for jellyfish (and all you have to do is watch a video where you
see a sea gull choking on a plastic bag and you’ll never want to touch another
Recycling is not the solution (though it is a great thing). Fewer than 5% of
plastic grocery bags are recycled each year statewide, which leaves 95% to fill
up space in landfills and harm animal life when the bags wind up in our
waterways. And if it’s not an environmental issue for you then perhaps money
talks: California municipalities spend nearly $25 million each year to collect
and dispose of plastic bag waste. With Santa Monica’s ban of single use plastic
bags Heal the Bay stated this action would seek an end to the "fiscal waste"
created by the use of about 26 million plastic shopping bags each year in the
city of Santa Monica, alone.
Sure the ban was long overdue (that for being as Green as Santa Monica is it
took a multitude of cites, starting with the city of San Francisco in 2007 and
including eight cities in Los Angeles county, before our ban was finally
enacted). Banning plastic bags in Santa Monica was supposed to happen three
years ago, but threats of litigation from the plastic bag manufactures caused
more than a few feet to be dragged. And yes some of the reason that the bag
banning finally happened here in our fair city had to do with the fact that
unincorporated Los Angeles was now taking on the same issue (remember Santa
Monica loves to tout itself off as progressively Green, but that only works if
we actually do things before anyone else in Los Angeles…). But even if the
city’s actions are slightly sluggish and selfish in nature we still got the job
done (and as Woody Allen once said, “Ninety percent of life is just showing
All of these issues were really just miniature hurdles to a jump that soared
last week. To some, it might not seem like a big deal, but life is a game of
inches. Not even inches, but millimeters really. Tony Robbins (which even if
you take him or leave him really does make some great points) talks about how
he hit a golf ball that went a hundred yards off from the mark. Robbins was
annoyed until his golf-pro explained to him that he was really only millimeters
off from the right spot where the club made contact with the ball, he was
really only millimeters off from the spot that would get him to that perfect
shot. It turns out that those hundred or so yards were the direct result of one
tiny action. The little things add up to big things. Every action needs to
start at the smallest level with you or me. As they say, “think globally, act
I recently had a conversation with my friends Anna Cummins and Marcus
Eriksen of the 5 Gyres, a Santa Monica environmentalist couple who are sailing
around the world mapping out our global plastic problem in the middle of the
world’s five oceans. Having just returned from Cape Town, South Africa, Anna
informed me that the “national flower” of South Africa is known as the plastic
bag. A sad tale, but our actions in Santa Monica helped make sure that would
never happen here in our amazingly great city, and perhaps one less single use
plastic bag might was up on the beaches of Cape Town.
Way to own 2011 Santa Monica!