University of California student organizers launch campaign to save plastic bag ban in California

KATE SNOWDON / AGGIE
KATE SNOWDON / AGGIE

CALPIRG students advocate for ban on single-use plastic bags after 2014 law was stalled

On March 5, 60 students from the California Student Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) gathered at the state capitol in Sacramento to lobby state officials in support of the Save the Ban campaign, an initiative to end the use of single-use plastic bags in California.

The statewide ban on plastic bags in specific stores came into effect in 2014, when Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 270 into law. Shortly after, three out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers gathered the necessary number of signatures to put a hold on the ban and bring the issue to a vote on the Nov. 8 ballot this year.

Madalyn Elliott, a third-year managerial economics major and CALPIRG intern, expressed her frustration with the recent setback the ban has faced.

“The craziest thing about this whole campaign is that we already decided as a state to ban plastic bags in California, [when] Governor Brown signed SB 270,” Elliott said in an email interview. “It feels like a step backwards, but we are determined to continue to spread the word about keeping the ban on plastic bags that we worked so hard to achieve.”

Genevieve Abedon, a waste prevention campaign coordinator for Californians Against Waste (CAW), said that there are potential difficulties in getting people to vote in favor of the initiative.

“We’re looking for a Yes vote to uphold the ban, so that’s hoping that they’re going to vote,” Abedon said. “A lot of people, particularly in a presidential election, don’t actually make it to the end of the ballot, and this ballot coming up November is likely going to have lots of other initiatives on it and propositions and so there might be an even higher dropoff rate.”

Students from eight University of California CALPIRG chapters travelled to Sacramento to host a statewide conference as well as workshops and training for the campaign. Travelling with a 30-foot inflatable turtle, the group seeks to bring focus to marine wildlife threatened by plastic pollution.

“Plastic bags are the fourth most common plastic pollution item that is found all along our oceans, rivers, streams and city streets,” Elliott said. “The problem is that these plastic bags do not biodegrade, but instead break down into small pieces — which our marine life then mistakes as food.”

The initiative has received the endorsement of the California Democratic Party, while 40 percent of California, including 147 cities and counties, already live under their own ban on plastic bags. Last year, the Sacramento City Council unanimously approved a ban after companies spent $3 million to get the referendum on the ballot.

If available at the point of sale, SB 270 also requires stores to sell recycled paper bags for no less than $0.10. Lee Califf, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance (APBA), led the opposition that gathered more than 800,000 signatures.

“SB 270 was never a bill about the environment,” Califf wrote in a press release for APBA. “It was a backroom deal between the California Grocers Association and their union friends to scam consumers out of billions of dollars in bag fees — all under the guise of environmentalism. California voters will now have the chance to vote down a terrible law that, if implemented, would kill 2,000 local manufacturing jobs and funnel obscene profits to big grocers without any money going to a public purpose or environmental initiative.”

The ban on single-use plastic bags has proven effective in cities throughout California that are trying to reduce their impact on the environment. One year after San Jose implemented its own ordinance, a study found an 89 percent reduction of plastic bags in storm drains, a 60 percent reduction in rivers and a 59 percent reduction in streets and neighborhoods.

Elliott, who gave a speech to lawmakers at the event in Sacramento, felt confident that students and California citizens would show support in November.

“The public seems to be on our side, which is great,” Elliott said. “Students care about California and care about protecting our oceans. Banning plastic bags will only help to improve our environment. We shouldn’t let a plastic bag we use for a few minutes pollute our oceans for decades.”

Written by: Ivan Valenzuela  – campus@theaggie.org