The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 1, 2010

California: We Could Have Been A Leader!

I’m sick at heart this morning.  I was going to write a post about how empowered I felt after taking my washing machine apart and putting it back together again.  But I’m too upset by the actions of the California senate this morning to give a crap about that.


Last night, I fell asleep in my living room chair while watching episodes of Ugly Betty on DVD.   Early this morning, Michael woke me up with some ugly news: California legislators struck down AB1998, the California plastic bag ban bill that so many of us have been excited about.

I wrote about AB1998 back in May right before it passed the California Assembly.  I was so full of hope. The bill looked like it would go all the way.  Even the governator had committed to signing it.  But the American Chemistry Council spent these last few weeks buying politicians and releasing scary commercials (full of lies) to convince voters and legislators that banning plastic bags would pretty much cause the downfall of California civilization as we know it.

LIES of the ACC

I didn’t write about this video when it was released because I thought it was so over the top that no one would be influenced by it.  I’ll show it to you now.  I guess I was wrong.

One big lie in this video is that banning single-use plastic bags would cut jobs in California.  In fact, I visited a plastic bag factory this weekend, a company that manufactures heavy guage plastic bags — not the type that would be impacted by the bill — and the owner told me that there are virtually no producers of t-shirt bags (the kind you get for free at the grocery store) in California.  It’s all bull.

What’s more, the bill contained provisions to provide reusable bags to low income people, so arguing that it would be a burden for the poor is disingenuous as well.


We have to get on the stick, people.  We can’t just wait and assume that a bunch of environmental groups are going to solve this problem for us.  We have to make our personal actions count.  We’ve got to get outside our comfort zones and use our influence to halt the production and use of single-use plastics.

1) Stop using single-use plastics yourself.  Just stop.  No excuses.  Forgetting bags at home is not an excuse.  You don’t develop a habit by letting yourself off the hook time after time.  More than once, I have carried out my purchases in my hands.  If I had too much to carry, I put stuff back.  Because I don’t have a car.  But if you DO have a car, bring your cart out to the car, unload your stuff, carry it home and maybe put it in bags to bring it into the house.  You won’t forget again.

2) Talk to your friends and family about why you bring your own bags, bottles, containers, etc. with you.  Don’t be preachy but also, don’t keep your actions to yourself.   Yes, you have to start with your own personal actions, but if you leave it at that, we’ll never make big enough change to make a difference.  Set an example.  Talk to people.  Make your actions count for more.

3) Talk to store managers/owners about banning plastic bags from their stores.  It’s worked in several places already.  Rebecca Hosking in Modbury, England got all the merchants in her town to commit to stop handing out plastic bags.  She circumvented the legislative process altogether.  Green Sangha has put together a flyer that you can print out and hand to store employees explaining why you refuse plastic bags:  Why I Don’t Use Plastic Bags (PDF).  The bottom of the flyer is the part that’s most relevant.

4) Write to your legislators — local, state, and national — and demand legislation banning single-use disposable plastics, like plastic bags.  Organize your family and associates to write letters too.

5) Use the power of social media to spread your campaigns.  It’s not hard, and IT’S FREE.  We don’t need the money of the plastics industry if we use the power that we do have.  Our votes are what get them into office.  We just have to let them know what it will take to win our votes.

Want some ideas for how to create a social action campaign?  Ask me about Take Back The Filter.  No really, if you’re serious about creating a campaign, ask me.  It takes commitment.  But anyone can do it, and I mean YOU.

6) Write letters to the editor of your local paper.  Worried about how to do it?  Don’t be.  Just start writing.  Keep your letter short and to the point.  Here are some tips: How to Write a Letter to the Editor that Gets Published and Read.  Seriously.  Try it.  The very first time I wrote a letter to the editor, it got published in Rolling Stone Magazine.  I’m not kidding.

7) Take to the streets.  Learn how to visit your representatives and talk to them.  Participate in rallies.  Get out and get to know the people in your neighborhood.  Organize street cleanups and beach cleanups to make people SEE what single-use plastics are doing to the environment with their own eyes.  These cleanups don’t solve the problem, but they do spread awareness.

The point is that each of us must take our actions to the next level, whatever that is.  Get a little outside your comfort zone.  Try talking to a stranger once, and see how it feels and what happens.  So many of us, women especially, are worried about people thinking we are “pushy” or that they won’t like us.  We worry about making people angry.  So what?  SO WHAT?  I’m pretty angry about what we’re doing to the planet and the fact that the monied interests are only concerned with maintaining a status quo that is killing us.

Do you think they’re worried about making ME angry?

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13 years ago

I think the days of looking to California for environmental leadership are over. It is WE who have to be the change we want to see. Big money will squash us trying to use the “government” to help us.

More and more people in my town are using reusable bags. Some use baskets. We are changing without them. I just wish we could reach the immigrant community. Have you ever noticed how much more plastic there is if you shop in the immigrant neighborhoods? And so much litter, too.

The other day at the farmers market the guy put my apples (without asking me first) into a plastic bag. He handed it back to me and just as I was going to remove the apples from the bag and give the bag back to him, I felt the bag and asked, what is this? It feels different. It was some kind of non-plastic. I decided to take it home and see if it really does dissolve in the compost. I’ll bet it’s the only “plastic” bag actually made in the state of California.

13 years ago

As Tigerlily said, here in Canada there aren’t many places anymore where you can get “free” plastic bags. I have been carrying cloth bags since 1986. However, I was visiting my daughter in another province, 2000 km. away, last spring and on an inpulse one day bought 3 bras (padded type) in a dept. store. Rather than pay 5 cents for a bag, I stuffed them into my purse and coat pocket. When I got out to the car, I took them out and, to my dismay, they were badly crumpled and distorted. I sat in the car, patiently “massaging” them until they assumed their normal shape once again. (Whew!). Later, I wondered what would have happened if someone had happened by and saw me sitting in a car massaging bras? The things we do to save the environment!

13 years ago

Hi Beth,
I just looked at the American Chemistry Council’s website – apparently plastic bottles in the fridge keep us safer as they are not so heavy to lift! I didn’t realise we were all so weak we couldn’t lift a glass bottle! (You would think wine consumption would have dropped substantially if this was the case…).
My husband and I no longer use plastic bags and are cutting out more plastic now. Keep up the good work with the blog, it’s inspiring.

Molly de Vries
13 years ago

Thank you Beth,
This sickens me to the point of feeling paralyzed. You bring me hope. Thank you for all of your hard work and heart. You are truly a gift. Molly

13 years ago

Wow. That video is WAY over the top! We don’t see ads like that in Canada. I live in Ontario and while plastic bags aren’t banned they are no longer free at most stores (grocery, book, fabric, Walmart may be one of the only large stores with free plastic bags).

I’ve been shopping at a lower end grocery store for years, and they have always charged for bags in an effort to keep costs down. However they provide boxes to carry your food home (left over from inventory) which is a great help when I forget my bags or buy more then originally intended. I do however anti up for a couple bags a month to use a garbage bin liners. I can’ t bring myself to buy kitchen garbage bags and this way at least the bags will be used 2x.

Condo Blues
13 years ago

You can patronize stores that encourage you to bring your own bag. I shop at a grocery store that charges for shopping bags, that’s the quickest way to get into the reusable bag habit! The other grocery store holds a monthly drawing if you bring our own bag. There are department stores that will have you a few cents off your order if you bring your own bag.

13 years ago

I hate to say it, but I don’t think that we’re going to be able to look to the US for environmental leadership anytime soon. The bag-ban being squashed is terrible, sure. However, I think in the long-term, if we can eliminate the plastic bag through personal change rather than legislation, even if it means that our environment suffers in the interim, that we as people will be better for it. because we’ll have changed minds rather than laws.

And keep holding onto hope that the fantastic leadership other nations are showing in this area will be infectious. Did you hear that Canada has banned BPA?

Good things are happening, even if they’re not happening here.

13 years ago

I really would like to know how the Senate thought the ban would be harmful.
As a reusable bags manufacturer we have found our business growing over the years with more people becoming aware of the implication of using plastic.

Michelle Cassar
13 years ago

I’m gutted. Gutted. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks. So excited thinking of all the Hollywood stars with their reusable bags…. But my hopes aren’t lost!

Time to get busier indeed!

Denise: Go to there they have all the instructions on how to make your own canvas bags, out of scrap. You tally how many you’ve made & add your numbers to their growing numbers. Then go BAG every body. Even PRINCE CHARLES has donated some (rather big, no doubt) curtains to them to be made into bags. Maybe we should start sending them to those Hollywood stars…?

My little farmers market in rural Portugal have started to take notice of people not using bags. Time to get Rebecca Hoskins book….

I’m off to meet with a friend & get talking.

Thanks for being the first to inform me on this Beth :-)

ps that trailer???? is that REAL?! Where were they showing that?

13 years ago

Sorry Beth! My friend from Germany said that they just don’t do bags in the grocery store. The way they have always done things. They have these foldable tray-like things with handles. Pretty cool. Sorry Beth. Totally lame.

Ben F
13 years ago

Answered my own question

Ben F
13 years ago

#6. Michael (or anyone else) – is there a way to see who voted and how they voted?

Chris Kelly
13 years ago

We did it here in Washington DC, our Nations Capitol, the 5cent bag fee has been in effect since January. My SO works in a small convenience store and he says they are not even buying plastic bags anymore and more and more people are carrying cloth/reusable bags.

I remember going to the grocery store in Provence and there were no bags available at all…..we knew in advance so we brought a few from USA for our shopping.

Beth D.
13 years ago

I just want to say that the exact same thing happened in California regarding banning BPA. I don’t think people realize just how much money is going into these campaigns to keep us all sick with chemicals and waste. It’s just so frustrating that politicians are allowed to take money from corporations in this country because it means the people don’t actually get a say. Considering the mounting evidence of problems caused by BPA and plastics, it is *almost* hard to believe the government won’t protect us.

13 years ago

I’m sorry, every time I post a comment on your website Beth, it usually starts with “Here, in France…” because in my opinion, it’s always interesting to see how other countries deal with the same problems. So here goes:
Here, in France, there’s no legislation banning plastic bags, but big “hypermarkets” as we call them (the French equivalent of Walmart for instance) have stopped giving away plastic bags a few years ago. It’s either you come with your bags, or you buy reusable bags (make of plastic, but at least they last several years), or use your hands. At the time, many customers hated the idea and would yell at cashiers (duh) but now it seems just perfectly normal to everyone: you just take your bags with you along with your credit card when you go grocery shopping.
Here’s a link (translated by Google) to Carrefour’s explanation :

13 years ago

Ugh, that ad makes me want to vomit. Seriously? People are unemployed because of bags???

Last night my husband came home with a plastic bag from Staples. I almost came unglued…I was sorting through bags in our cabinet the other day, and despite the fact that I haven’t taken a bag from a grocery store in at least ten years, and from any other store in at least three or four, we still had probably 30 or 40 plastic bags (we use them to line our trash cans, so they do get used…but where are the rest coming from? Staples, I guess).

Grrrr…And if California can’t do it, then who can??? (By the way, though, those plastic reusable bags irritate me even more, because they use more plastic than a disposable, and everywhere you turn people give them to you for free, and the groceries just rattle around in the bottom and glass jars break…I’ll keep using my 15-year-old canvas, thanks!!)

Thanks for the vent.

13 years ago

wow, I just realized the letter to the editor I read in rolling stone that caused me to stop using plastic was yours, so thanks!

Denise Holcombe
13 years ago

I was disappointed too and then got to thinking. How great would it be if we could just continue using our influence and example so more and more people brought their own bags and shops just ended up not even needing to order plastic. I see more and more people bringing their own bags every day – I think awareness is clearly being raised. Think of the air it would take out of the sails of the opposition if plastic bags became a thing of the past because the people just stopped using them? Sometimes legislation is the only answer but this is an area where progress continues to be evident. What if we use our resources to hand out reuseable bags at shopping centers?

13 years ago

LOVE this… ok… hate that you had to write this… but LOVE it all the same.

That video is a crock of you know what. Argh. I just had such optimism with this bill… optimism for what it could do for our entire country… the ripple it could’ve created. (sigh)

1.) Done. I can’t remember the last time I took a plastic carry out bag… and when my grocery store decided to use my coastal community as a test market for ONLY plastic bags (eliminating the option of paper) and I forgot my bags one day… I pushed a whole cart out to my car…family of 5!!!… NO BAGS. And… I often don’t take my bags in when I’m getting a few items just so people can see me carry them out….no bag needed ;)

2.) Done. Here’s one example and this moment forever changed my friend’s husband :)

3.) Just talked to and wrote my grocery store last week!! YAY!! They saw I’m not shopping there much… want me back… how about a plastic bag ban!!!?? (oh yeah… there were more demands ;) ) (the store I shop at now has a plastic bag ban… but they do have other things that irritate me … e.g Plastic Crap Wall of Shame post)

4, 5, 6)… I’m on it.

7.) Every day, in every way… I’m there. We just adopted a beach access at our local beach… and I’m on a mission to help get smoking banned from our local beach. Plastic is plastic, right!!!??

I love that you’re fired up… I feel the energy…. “if one voice can change a room…” I’m sure you know what else it can do :D

13 years ago

This is infuriating. Especially the video – WTF? It scares me that people will sit and take that information handed to them having absolutely no idea who the source is.

I’m definitely guilty of being afraid to speak up – afraid someone I know will see me, think I’m crazy, something. I don’t know. I’m trying to work on it bit by bit.

13 years ago

I am also upset by this, a chance to really make a positive impact, is gone for now. Also it upsets me only 11 states have a deposit law on the books for soda and beer cans and bottles. It is maddening when I bring my cloth bags to a store and they still want to put something inside in plastic, I used to let it go, but now I speak up, no plastic please. I wish plastic water bottles would be banned as well as bags. Actually I think plastic should only be allowed for something you need to last for years, like a fence not for one time use items. Enough ranting for now. Thanks again Beth for what you do. g

Sandra Lee
13 years ago

So sad to hear this news. Thanks for the ideas for stepping up the act.

Tina M
13 years ago

sad news, sorry

When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.
Cree Prophecy

13 years ago

Of course we recycle and hope for the best, but the sad truth is that it isn’t working. Refuse, avoid, rethink, address your plastic addiction and simplify your life. For trash in the kitchen, just use a hard plastic trash can. If it gets funky from something, wash it out occasionally. I have a composter and I’m a vegetarian, so no food scraps go in it or down the disposal. If there is something yucky once in awhile, it goes outside immediately. I don’t have problems with bugs, ants, or smell. Ever. No liners in the bathrooms either. And, no plastic yard waste bags. I’m going for a plastic free lifestyle.
Did you see the research linking plastic with autism and Altzheimer’s? The scientist even told his pregnant niece to get all the plastic out of her house! It’s not a conspiracy theory. Our plastic footprint is worse than our carbon footprint. Go to “All At Once”– Jack Johnson’s non-profit campaign, find Algalita, watch our 3 minute video and we get a buck for each hit. THNX!

13 years ago

That sucks. Lobbyists win again. We feel for you here in Seattle, the Seattle city council had the chance to be proactive and chickend out on banning the bag, decided to leave it to the voters. Who after millions spent by the plastic bag lobby, voted it down. Good news is the smaller suburban cities are taking up were Seattle failed and bringing out their own bans. Hopefully it catches on down here in Burien, or land of Grocery Outlet.

13 years ago

I have written previously on my blog, about how the town of Modbury in Devon, England, successfully banned the use of plastic bags three years ago. Ok this isn’t California, but the principles are the same. No jobs were lost, in the process either, in fact since this scheme has been up and running, the town has gained much in publicity terms and tourists flock there. All of the traders in involved in the scheme are adamant that they will never go back to using plastic. In fact many of them have taken further steps to ban the use of all plastics in their shops. You need a Rebecca Hoskins in California, she’s the dynamic woman who got Modbury to become plastic free. I am part of a similar group now who are hoping to make our local town plastic free too. Luckily, unlike you over in America, we don’t have to contend with big business running TV disinformation campaigns.

Here’s my latest blog too, about the film Trapped, which deals with bottled water:

13 years ago

I’m totally with you!!! This is REALLY disheartening. But the posts and comments here give me hope.

I am a volunteer for Surfrider Foundation, Monterey Chapter and they are training 50 people to do presentations to groups about reducing single use plastics. GRASSROOTS is how it’s going to have to be done.

Thank you Beth for all you do! Your blog is totally inspiring and I share it with every one I know!

13 years ago

Just by coincidence I posted something today on my blog that deals with the same issue – you have to get involved, whatever the cause.

Today at Panera, as usual, I dug the plastic cups, newspapers, and cans out of the garbage and put them in the recycling bin right next to it. After I finished, I turned around to see several people in Panera staring at me wondering what I was doing. GREAT! Think of yourself as an actor putting on an impromptu show. Street theater. It’s particularly good when children see people doing something – ’cause they will turn to Mom or Dad and say, “why is that person doing that?” so Mom and Dad will be forced to think about it too.

13 years ago

I am serious disappointed too! I have just emailed my district 2 senator and told her that if she didn’t even bother to vote on this issue I will be sure to not vote for her come election time. I also just got off the phone with my locally owned and operated grocery store and they are already working on a plan to stop using plastic bags. Thanks for all that you do Beth, you’re an inspiration.

13 years ago

How disappointing! UGH!!! I blogged about your state too and was hoping to do a follow up on how great CA is and how it’s such a green state to live in! I’m appalled that the ACC struck again! Really sorry to hear this sad news. :(

13 years ago

So, here’s something I have been pondering for a while….

Most of the time, I bring my own bags to the store. But sometimes, I’ll take the plastic bags they offer, but for one reason only: I use them as garbage bags. I never buy plastic garbage bags. My kitchen is too small for a big garbage can. So, I just use a plastic grocery store bag, and hang it from a hook by my sink. And one bag will usually hold at least a week’s worth of trash since I recycle and compost everything I can….

But is that a bad use of those bags? Would it be better to buy some kind of garbage bag instead?

13 years ago

So very sad to hear about this. I was looking to California for leadership. Thanks for all these great suggestions. I am doing what you said, and taking measures into my own hands, trying to influence one town on Cape Cod, Wellfleet, to go completely green. Everyone who feels the same way must assume responsibility, too. Together we can make a difference.

13 years ago

Love it, I am going to write my huge chain store and ask if they would eliminate the bags on there own they are headquartered right here in my town.

Sorry your bill didn’t pass, but we can change w/o the damn bill!