The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
August 14, 2012

Please Take Action. Refusing Plastic Bags & Foam Is Great. Banning Them Is Better!

Most of us at this point have gotten in the habit of (or are at least working on) bringing our own reusable bags to the grocery store and refusing take-out food in polystyrene foam containers.  (You know, that white foamy stuff we all like to call Styrofoam but actually isn’t Styrofoam because Styrofoam is a brand name that doesn’t actually make foodware.)  But then we look around us and see plastic bags blowing down the street and polystyrene bits crumbling into the soil.

Our own personal actions are very important, but they are not enough to halt the problem.  We need action on a systemic level.  We need our leaders to get involved.  But guess what. WE are the ones they are waiting to hear from!

There are several petitions and letter writing campaigns you can get involved in RIGHT NOW.  Please take a minute to do it and pass along the word.  And even if you don’t live in California or Illinois, there are steps you can take.  Please read on…

California Plastic Bag Ban (AB 298)

Even if you don’t live in California, you should care about getting this legislation passed because California tends to be the leader in environmental regulation.  If we can get a plastic bag ban passed statewide in California, other states will follow.  The bill will ban plastic bags and require businesses to charge a fee for paper and reusable bags.  It also regulates reusable bags to make sure what is being offered instead is non-toxic and sturdy and will last over a certain number of uses.

You can:

Illinois — Don’t Let the Chemical Industry Prohibit Cities from Banning Plastic Bags!

The Illinois legislature has just passed a bill (SB3442) to basically ban plastic bag bans!  Now it is sitting on the governor’s desk, and he has just a few days left to VETO the bill.  Abby Goldberg, a 12-year-old girl, created a petition to urge the governor to veto the bill.  So far, her petition has received over 160,000 signatures, which she personally delivered to the governor last month, but he still has not said whether he will veto it or not.   He needs to hear from all of us.  And not just via a simple petition signature.
You can:
  • CALL Governor Quinn (217) 782-0244 or (312) 814-2121 and urge him to VETO the “Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Act,” IL SB3442 (The most effective way to contact him right now.)
  • Sign the petition:
  • Send an email to Governor Quinn via Surfrider’s Take Action Page:
  • Forward these links to your friends via Facebook, Twitter, Email!
Wondering if there is action you can take on plastic bags in your state?  Visit Bag It‘s “Bag It Town” page to download an activist toolkit, track the movement, or contact the organizers to learn more about what you can do.

California Polystyrene Foam Foodware Ban (SB 568)

Polystyrene foam is a kind of plastic, and it is a problem.  First of all, it’s hard to recycle.  According to the EPA, only 1 percent of all polystyrene waste was recycled in 2010.  Second, when littered, it crumbles apart easily and blows everywhere, making it very difficult to clean up.  The wind carries it out to sea, where it can mimic food for marine animals.  And finally, styrene, an ingredient in polystyrene, is a suspected carcinogen and can leach from polystyrene food containers and contaminate our food.  Let’s ban it across the state!

38 Responses to “Please Take Action. Refusing Plastic Bags & Foam Is Great. Banning Them Is Better!”

  1. myparentsarehoarders says:

    banning plastic bags in our town seems to have made things worse because now EVERY business is giving out “reusable” bags. I have dozens of these things and they seem so much more of a waste than the thin plastic ones. And where do the reusable ones end up? In the trash, because they’re so poorly made. 

    • BethTerry says:

       @myparentsarehoarders You make a good point.  In my book, I have a whole section on how to choose a reusable bag because they are definitely not all created equal.  The California legislation would have required stores to charge for paper or reusable bags, and it also had requirements for what could be classified as a reusable bag… it had to be able to hold up after a certain number of uses with a certain amount of weight.  But unfortunately, it did not pass this time.

  2. Richard says:

    I am a retired scientist, have lived on the shores of Monterey Bay for 40 years, & have been a Charter member of the Monterey Bay Aquarium since it opened in 1985.  Plastic bag bans have a disastrous effect on the coastal environment.  Two problems:
    1.)     Each PAPER bag generates 50 TIMES as much water pollution (from coastal paper mills) as a plastic one. (EPA data)
    2.)    No bag ban we have tallied is any more than 35% effective; all the rest is PAPER.  MOST bans are less than 25% effective!
    These data have been collected in a very scientific manner over the last 2 years (since November 2010) from dozens of large supermarkets in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Santa Cruz.  The bans are total FAILURES.  This month San Francisco will have had a bag ban in effect for 5 YEARS and yet the most recent figures from April show a low of 11% to a high of 15% reusable bags.  All of the rest is PAPER with 50 TIMES THE WATER POLLUTION—an environmental disaster!
    I would urge anyone who doubts these figures from cities with a ban to stand in front of any large supermarket and take a count of reusable versus paper for 20 minutes!
    Richard Wick

    • BethTerry says:

      Hi Richard.  I agree that simply switching to paper bags is not the answer.  Bringing our own reusable bags is.  That’s why San Francisco has expanded its disposable bag legislation to charge a fee for paper bags.  Fees definitely work.  Look at the results in Ireland and Washington, DC.  All of the municipalities passing bag bans now are charging fees for paper bags.  And the only reason they don’t charge fees for plastic bags, instead of banning them, is because the state prohibits cities from charging fees for plastic bags… legislation the plastics industry pushed through several years ago ostensibly to give recycling a chance to work.  But recycling plastic bags has turned out to be a dismal failure.

      • myparentsarehoarders says:

        Here in DC the law has just replaced one wasteful problem with another. Now every company and business gives out free “reusable” bags. go into Lululemon to buy pants and what do they give you? A reusable bag. that wears out after three uses and ends up in the recycling (hopefully) or the trash (typically). I wonder how many plastic bags you have to avoid to make up for the resources used to make a single ‘reusable’ bag?

        • BethTerry says:

           @myparentsarehoarders That’s why it’s important for these kinds of laws to clearly define what counts as a reusable bag… how strong it has to be and how long it must hold up.

  3. amy says:

    The vote on SB 568 is going to be close. If you want to see polystyrene foodware gone in California you need to CALL your assembly member NOW and ask them to vote YES on SB 568!!!  Every vote counts!  SB 568 must pass by August 31, 2012. Find your assembly member and get their phone number at  
    Even if you signed the petition and/or sent an email you need to follow up with a call.  I recommend calling the office in Sacramento. 
    We need the phones ringing off the hook with people saying vote yes on SB 568!!!

  4. KirstenM says:

    Here in Canberra, Australia, we have a sort-of plastic bag ban (the worst offenders are banned, but heavy duty bags are still available and the supermarkets sell them for I think 10c or maybe 15c. They are reusable, but still 10c isn’t enough of a disincentive for a lot of people to bring them back every time. But the worst thing is, the current opposition is making it an election issue, promising to reverse the ban!

  5. KadiPrescott says:

    @AlmostTruth @plasticfreebeth what?! The last time I checked, this was a free country & that means freedom to use plastic bags.

  6. blessed says:

    Beth, down here in Santa Cruz they just recently passed a county bag ban, and I think a ban on “styrofoam” take-out food containers as well.  All well and good, right?  Except I found out that it is a county-wide measure that does NOT include the cities of Capitola or the city of Santa Cruz itself!  In other words, it seems to be a horrible case of elitism, where the very people who proposed the ban and set it into place don’t really want to be inconvenienced in their own neighborhoods.  Grrrrrrr.  I’m all for both bans, and just don’t get why the two largest, most tourist-visited towns in the county are exempt.  The other thing I grumble about a little is that you are charged for paper bags in those stores affected by the ban (like my local store), so that even if I take six cloth bags, and end up with a little overflow, they still charge for the additional bag.  That’s rough on someone like me who has a good sized family and gets loads of grocceries at one time.  Don’t penalize me for trying to bring my own bags but just not having enough.  I think groccery stores should be able to offer one of two bags to people who run into that issue.  It’s like being penalized for buying more food–I wonder if the stores end up feeling a pinch from people putting items back when they realize they don’t fit in the bags they brought. I know it’s only 10 cents a bag, but it all adds up.  And I don’t want to spend even 10 cents on something that I’m just going to use to recycle paper in!
    I’m also wondering what people are going to use to scoop their pet waste into, esp. when walking dogs.  Because if we ban plastic bags, eventually people will run out of their stashes of used misc. ones. . . will this lead to an increase in the purchase of containers of new plastic bags from stores?

  7. Anonymous says:

    I think it’s better to TAX (or put a fee on) bags, styrene containers, etc. rather than banning them. That way, you get some revenue, which you can use towards mitigating the effects. And people feel as if they have a choice; they get more resentful when things are completely unavailable. They will gradually learn to CHOOSE to bring their own bags. And this will filter back to the storeowners and manufacturers.

    • Katie Ostrich says:

      I don’t know about all states…..but in a lot of them (California for example), the plastic bag industry successfully lobbied to make it illegal for cities and towns to tax plastic bags. SF was planning on passing a tax initially, but went with a ban when that was the only option that remained. The Bag It movie has pretty good info.

      • Richard says:

        Dear Katie,
        I am a retired scientist and the Bag It movie is rubbish!  It is extremist entertainment, not real factual science.  But don’t get me started.
        Richard Wick

        • Katie Ostrich says:

          I am a fisheries biologist, and while Bag It is a movie, nothing more or less, the information regarding policy is sound. It is in this respect that I recommended it, not as a scientific resource.

    • amy says:

      It is very difficult to pass new taxes in California since Prop 26 was passed in 2010. Prop 26 requires a two-thirds supermajority vote in the California State Legislature to raise taxes, fees, etc.  Before Prop 26  such taxes were enacted with a simple majority vote.
      There is plenty of choice allowed by SB 568. It simply states that polystyrene foam cannot be used.  That leaves many other options including, but not limited to, different plastics, paper, bamboo, corn, etc. 

  8. Anonymous says:

    Into what can polystyrene foam actually be recycled? (downcycled, I assume?)  I was in LA recently, and the recycling bins accept foam (though it looked as if ALL takeout food containers were foam, and almost none of them were being recycled) and so I wondered what actually happened to it. Thank you.

    • amy says:

      Most of the polystyrene in LA in curbside recycling bins ended up in the landfill.  In 2011, Los Angeles County staff found 32 communities in the LA area attempted to recycle EPS. 15 of the 32 communities collected and sent expanded polystyrene (EPS) to the landfill because it was not clean enough to recycle. Food residue contamination caused an additional 8 communities to discontinue the collection of EPS altogether. Leaving only 7 communities with foam collection and recycling programs  You can read more at

  9. Lucky2 says:

    Why will the California bill require businesses to charge a fee for paper?

    • BethTerry says:

      Paper bags have an environmental impact as well.  The bill aims to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags instead of relying on free disposable bags from stores, no matter what the bags are made out of.  The fee for paper bags will still be very low. 

  10. Saltwater says:

    Was all high on inspiration and motivation, then went to the website: OH RIGHT, Seattle did this two years ago. Okay. Off to spend my inspiration on something else…. 

    • BethTerry says:

       @Saltwater Hold on a minute, sister!  Before you go, there is a statewide bill for Washington, but it looks like it’s on hold.  I sent an email to the contact person to find out what we can do.

  11. Chelsea Gale says:

    Thanks Beth, I’ll get started on those actions steps right now!

  12. Beachmama says:

    Thanks for giving us a ‘heads up’ on this Beth. I’ve signed online petitions, made calls, and written letters about the plastic bag ban AND SB 568. My concern is that if they ban the foam food ware what’s to prevent restaurants from using plastic containers instead of biodegradable alternatives? I will continue to write and speak with restauranteurs wherever we go to eat about alternative to plastic. Consumer pressure seems to be the best route. Any thoughts?

    • BethTerry says:

      I think that with legislation it’s one step at a time.  Foam is worse than many other types of plastic foodware because of how it crumbles, it takes up so much space in landfill, it’s hard to recycle, and it’s full of carcinogens.  But this is not a stopping point.  We have to get them to switch away from all plastics, but this is just a first step.

    • amy says:

      Writing letters in support of bills like SB 568 and AB 298 is super!!!  Letters and calls count for sooooo much more than petition signing. My suggestion is to make it a party.  Get a group together to write letters/make calls.  Everything is more fun in a group. 
      In addition to writing letters to elected to officials and businesses  to support bills like SB 568 and AB 298, you can write to business associations.  It would be a game changer if the California Restaurant Association supported SB 568 or at the very least did not oppose it.  Restaurant owners (and customers) that support  SB 568 should contact Matt Sutton,senior legislative director for the California Restaurant Association, at Ask the California Restaurant Association to end their opposition to SB 568. Tell him we don’t want the toxins in our food or the pollution in our water.
      Nothing is stopping the restaurants from using other plastic containers, but we have to start somewhere. Polystyrene foam is the worst material for take-out containers.  The best option, even better than biodegradable containers, is reusable containers. Pack a small container in your purse to take home leftovers.  Since portions at most restaurants are more than one person can eat, I frequently split my entrees with my tablemate(s) .  Then there are no leftovers and we have plenty of room for dessert afterwards.

  13. Clif says:

    Thanks for the notification on the situation in Illinois. I followed all three avenues of opposition to the ban bans legislation.