The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
November 15, 2011

Speaking Out For Tougher Plastic Bag Laws

Yesterday morning, I showed up at San Francisco City Hall to testify in favor of broadening the City’s plastic bag ban and discovered that no matter how many times I speak in public, I still get nervous every single time! But sitting in the audience with Eli Saddler from Ocean Health, and looking around at all my other friends from the environmental community (Save the Bay, SF Surfrider, and others) I knew that the butterflies in my tummy didn’t matter. I was prepared with incriminating photographs (see below) and supported by a lot of other committed activists.

Here’s the scoop: Back in 2007, San Francisco passed legislation banning plastic bags from large grocery stores and pharmacy chains. They had initially wanted to charge a fee for them but were stymied by the plastic bag lobby on the state level and had to resort to an outright ban. According to the Department of Environment, that ban resulted in an 18% reduction in plastic bag litter — but there was still a lot of plastic bag pollution to deal with, generated by restaurants and small stores. So this year, SF is considering an amendment to extend the ban to all plastic bags and to charge a fee for allowable bags (100% recycled paper, compostable, or reusable).

Here is my testimony along with the photos I presented as evidence that a broader ban is needed:

Supervisors,

My name is Beth Terry.  I write the blog MyPlasticfreeLife.com and have been working for the past five years to reduce my own personal plastic consumption and plastic waste and inspire others – in the Bay Area and around the world – to do the same.  One thing I have learned is that while growing numbers of us are committed to voluntarily bringing our own cloth shopping bags and refusing disposables, these individual personal actions are not enough to stem the tide of plastic pollution.  The problem is too great.

Yesterday afternoon, I came to the City for the Green Festival at the Concourse Exhibition Center.  I exited BART at the Civic Center Station and walked the six blocks down 8th Street from Market to Brannan.  On every block, I saw plastic bag litter.  I counted 13 plastic bags in all.  I had my camera with me and photographed the plastic bags all along the way.  There were plastic bags on the sidewalk, in the street, under cars, in doorways, in bushes, and worst of all, stuck in a storm grate, which leads to the Bay.   I did not touch, move, or arrange any of the bags before photographing them.

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

plastic bag litter on 8th Street in San Francisco

I commend The City for taking leadership to ban plastic shopping bags from large retail establishments, and I submit these photos to you as evidence that we must go further.  There is still too much plastic bag litter inSan Francisco.  Please vote to amend the San Francisco Environment Code to ban plastic bags from ALL retail establishments and food establishments in the City and to add a bag charge for all disposable bags to encourage San Franciscans to switch to reusable bags.

Thank you.

The committee voted to forward the amendment on to the full board despite the threat from Stephen Joseph, the attorney for the plastic bag industry, who made clear the industry would sue if the amendment went forward. I’m proud of San Francisco for standing up to the bullies and am glad that I could do my part to provide the City with added evidence that leglislation is needed.

I meant what I said in my little speech — while our personal voluntary actions are very important, they alone will not fix the problem without bigger action. Have you ever spoken before your City Council, Board of Supervisors, or whatever legislative body runs your town, county, or state? It’s a great experience, no matter how nervous you are about it. Just write down what you have to say beforehand. No matter what your level of public speaking skill, your voice matters!

To find out about plastic bag actions/legislation in your area and to GET INVOLVED, check out PlasticBagLaws.org and ChicoBag’s Map of Plastic Bag Initiatives.

27 comments
Amy
Amy

Also as supporters of a plastic bag ban it is important to listen to the arguments from the other side. For a dose of pro - plastic bag information click over to http://savetheplasticbag.com You might even find some interesting information. For instance, there is a problem with lead in the some of the reusable bags sold in stores. Save the plastic bag sees this as a reason to keep plastic bags. I see this as a reminder that plastic bag bans are but a starting point for much greater changes. No one said that plastic bags had to be replaced by cheap synthetic reusable bags. Instead, mainstream grocery stores could decided to provide paper and reusable bags made from hemp. If more US grocery stores demanded hemp fiber, then we would need more farmers to grow hemp, so the US government would finally have to see the wisdom of legalizing the growth industrial hemp. Oversimplification...yes....idealistic....yes....possible.....YES! After you are done at the Save the Plastic Bag website, click on over to the North American Industrial Hemp Council's website http://naihc.org/hemp-information/286-hemp-facts

John Vonderlin
John Vonderlin

Ooops. Proofread too late; that should be ,"If anything interests you (or anybody else who reads this).... Though, truthfully, being somewhat self-absorbed, it probably was a genuine Freudian Slip, as most everything I do is about me and my enjoyment of Life, even when it has an altruistic veneer. Enjoy. John

John Vonderlin
John Vonderlin

Hi Beth, John Vonderlin here. I have extensive online resources regarding Marine Debris, freely available, including tens of thousands of pictures of my highly organized collection of 50K items (flotsam and sinksam) and my multi-year collecting adventures acquiring it, viewable at this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnvonderlin/ Because my account is so large and varied, I recommend clicking the "Collections" tab along the top and selecting one of the collages that comes up. By clicking on the desired collage, only those Sets will come up. It's all linkable or downloadable for non-commercial use. I correspond with various scientists and marine debris artists and have extensive offline resources about my obsession, also freely available. If anything interests me, drop me a line or websearch my name (I have very few Googlegangers) and get a read on me and some of my other online efforts.

John
John

This is really awesome post and really strong enough. Yes we must stop using plastic. This post is really a good reminders to everybody.

Krysta Radder
Krysta Radder

The Images above speaks for themselves! Tell me one thing, Aren't most current plastic bags used in grocery stores (bin liners after shopping) degradable anyway? Also, If using paper over plastic significantly raises the cost of doing business how are they going to manage the costs? they will be charged to the customers only.. isn't that right?? I am aware the paper at least does not or hasn't been linked to causing tumors in people who are using it. whereas we are aware that plastics have the tendency to release cancer causing agents in the environment and they also immediately impact the reproductive organs in living things..

Amy
Amy

This is such a good reminder on how important it is to take the time to make public comment in person. The plastic bag ban was a good start, but this amendment is a huge improvement since it charges for the allowable bags too.

kanishka
kanishka

i've been gaining momentum on lowering my personal waste and plastic usage, but i do feel a bit alienated, the further i get with it. even making people aware, who i consider somewhat open to environmentalism, about my actions to not take disposable plastic packaging, get strange reactions. there is a huge disconnect between reusable shopping bags which seem accepted, and general avoidance of plastic packaging which has almost no awareness. the university i attend for graduate studies is a nationwide leader in sustainability. from my limited viewpoint, they do pretty well, but it is discouraging when i want to get a snack at one of their food stands, and everything there is packaged in plastic and i have to walk away. @clif , sorry you got discouraged by the local jerks. great job bringing up the issue.

lisa
lisa

Really impressed!!!

Cheryl
Cheryl

Excellent!! And thanks for the reminder about public speaking. Five minutes before I read your article, I was asked to prepare for a small work-related presentation. The 'butterflies' started immediately, but I really do feel better after reading what you wrote. If we know our stuff and need to educate others, then we need to relax and speak out!

Ottoline
Ottoline

Thank you, Beth, for the incredible work you are doing, and for your intelligent decision to illustrate your testimony with scenes from the reality of the current plastic bag 'ban'. As San Francisco goes, so goes Portland, albeit five years later and several shades of green paler. Portland has only very recently instituted a rather anaemic ban, on plastic grocery bags doled out by the larger chain groceries only, after failing to pass a state-wide ban. These same stores are still allowed to provide plastic bags in their bakery and deli departments, somewhat negating the so-called 'ban'. People seem to forget that we were able to do without plastic bags just 25 or 30 years ago, and it has been only a handful of decades since the use of plastics in applications in which they are more of a detriment rather than an advantage has become so widespread, for the sole sake of convenience (mostly that of the plastic bag lobby). It is disheartening to think of how dependent so many people have become on environmentally destructive habits of convenience, but I feel a little nudge of hope every time I read of your efforts, and those of other contributors here. We must keep pressing for change, setting an example, and not allowing occasional discouragement to lead to apathy. Meanwhile, this blog is the morning java of my plastic-free resolution.

Michelle
Michelle

Oh, also this may be the first time a lot of them have heard of plastic pollution...

Michelle
Michelle

Yah!!! Good on ya! Lets hope they stand up to the bullies. Gees, your streets are bad... not just bags I´m seeing in those photos... I´ve actually been asked to talk at the local community centre, to the committee of a local organisation. Err scared? To put it lightly! One factor is a lot of them will be Portuguese (fair enough seeing as I´m in Portugal!) but even with out the language thing, I´m worried that I only have one chance. To much information may send people running, not enough & well, that´s not enough. We´re based on the Atlantic so I can show photos of our beaches. But, also have to show the whole problem, not that I´m saying Portugal & our - their - beaches are dirty. I´m a foreigner, I have to tread really carefully. I also have a really strong regional accent (basically common, but regional´s my new word for it !) a lot of English people can´t even understand me... So yeah!! Where to start????! Visual I think, better find out if they have a projector! Any tips, greatly appreciated :-)

peaJayFish
peaJayFish

Thank you, Beth! Yes, I will email you. Perhaps not until after the first of the year, though. I have a pet-sitting business, and from this time on is the busiest of the year. If I commit to this, I want to be able to give it the appropriate time and energy. Quite disheartening to hear about my home state, Florida. I appreciate them taking the time to research it first, but they have the info now. Before I say anything else, I guess I should read the report myself...

sui solitaire
sui solitaire

Thank you for your work + inspiration, Beth. ♥

Suzy from Florida
Suzy from Florida

Way to go, Beth! Awesome pictures, but very disheartening. Reenie - the law in Florida is section 403.7033 of the Florida Statutes and was part of the Energy, Climate Change, and Economic Security Act of 2008. The ban was put in place until the DEP could perform an analysis of plastic bags and report to the legislature by Feb 2010. The report has been submitted and can be read in its entirety here: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/waste/quick_topics/publications/shw/recycling/retailbags/Retail-Bag-Report_01Feb10.pdf Until the legislature decides to act on the report, the ban is still in place. Pressure on our Florida governor, senators, and representatives is where to begin, not locally. No matter what local and state laws say, there is nothing that prevents corporate retail and grocers, individual shop owners, and the restaurant industries from offering a small credit for not using plastic bags. In Florida, Publix could prevent millions of plastic bags from entering the waste stream by offering credits for reusable bags. I use my reusables all the time at Publix and I'm frustrated by the amount of plastic that I still see leaving the store.

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison

We have a plastic bag ban on shops providing plastic bags in our state as well as in south Australia, but it is a bit toothless. It does not actually ban plastic bags as you can still buy them, and in fact purchases fpr use as bin liners has risen manyfold in SA, once the shop provided bags stopped. Nett effect......little change. what we do not see, though is the littering of them as you depict in photos. better litter management and on the spot fines for wilful disposable are needed. I am ambivalent over the issue now - we should use multi use bags for shopping, which is happening, but a total ban??? not so sure!

Tracey TieF
Tracey TieF

I am inspired by you to build my talks on simple things, like photos taken on a walk. You stick to your point, and are neither arrogant, nor self effacing. Without your example, I tend to over intellectualize problems, or get all self righteous. Thank you!

Reenie
Reenie

Love the speech, and the photographs! In the Sunshine State, aka Florida, there is a law that forbids passing any local ordinances that would ban plastic bags! I learned this last year when I decided to see if I get get something going to ban or tax plsatic bags. I contacted the FL Dept. of Environmental Protection and was told about this Florida Statute. So in Florida we'll need to get the state law changed to make it possible for local governments to decide about plastic bags. I agree about speaking in front of County or City Commissioners. Having everything you want to say written on a piece of paper helps enormously. Plus, usually you only get a minute or two to speak, and every second and word counts.

Beth Terry
Beth Terry

PeaJay, do you need help starting a group? There are lots of resources. Email me if you want some info.

peaJayFish
peaJayFish

It never ceases to amaze me how timely your posts always are, both for the world at large, and for me in particular. A nearby town in my state of Idaho is considering a plastic bag ban. There happens to be a large manufacturer of plastic bags right in that small town (Hailey), fighting it, of course. I would like to start a group to do the same here in Pocatello. I am petrified at a mike or podium, so thank you for your words of encouragement. Our individual actions are powerful, but sometimes we do need to step up and do more. You are my hero.

Maeve Murphy
Maeve Murphy

Beth, thanks for g-ing me up for my talk before the Larkspur City Council tomorrow eve (good timing!).

Mary Clare Hunt
Mary Clare Hunt

Great pictures Beth, and so powerful in this situation.

Clif Brown
Clif Brown

Recently our city council considered a fee on plastic bags and it was shot down with great ridicule. I scheduled a meeting with our city manager, our public works director and our "sustainability coordinator" concerning the non-enforcement of rules for our city recycling program (people throw anything and everything in including plastic bags filled with plastic bags). I left in despair because all the city (and other surrounding towns) are interested in is the gross volume/weight of what is hauled to the recycling processing facility....where much of it is simply transferred to garbage trucks to go to the landfill. I wish we could enjoy some of the successes you have had there on the west coast.

David McKay
David McKay

Thanks, Beth! I have been feeling a little discouraged lately by the state of the world, but I know that I just need to keep trying to make my life, and the life of our planet, better. It feels good to know that I am not alone... David

chantalwithoutplastic
chantalwithoutplastic

Congratulations Beth!!! I love how simple your speech was and rendered so powerful with all these pictures. Thank you for doing what you do! Chantal LifeWithoutPlastic.com

Ray
Ray

Excellent piece. You go, girl!