Saturday, February 4, 2012

Banning the Bag!

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:
Frak 2010.
Own 2011.
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, Ta-da!)

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 one again).

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 up”).

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 locally.”

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!

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