Yesterday, Heal the Bay spearheaded the 3rd annual “A Day Without a Bag,” which encourages shoppers to make the switch to reusable bags. The event reached significant proportions with over 50 locations and 20,000 free reusable bags handed out. A remarkable 70 of the county’s 88 cities participated in the “Day Without a Bag” or “Brag About Your Bag” campaigns. We don’t often see 70 local cities agree on what day it is, let alone the need to move away from disposable bags.
Corporate sponsors included Albertsons, Ralphs and 99 Cents Only. Local retailers Fred Segal Santa Monica and the Banana Republic’s Third Street Promenade also took part. Numerous environmental groups, veterans organizations and schools made a difference by organizing efforts to create reusable bags. Particularly noteworthy: the collection of hundreds of tank tops that were then sewn into fashionable reusable bags. Similar “bag days” have now popped up in San Diego, Orange , Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Francisco counties.
I’m proud to say that Heal the Bay, led by programs director Meredith McCarthy and communications director Matthew King, has helped spawn an environmental education movement in Los Angeles County that has grown to all of California and beyond. I talked to Matt last night and we both agreed that, despite all the media attention, this should be the last “A Day Without a Bag” that rewards and acknowledges small incremental improvement. After three years of raising awareness and building community support, we need major progress towards simple social change. By 2011, we need the city, county or even the state to truly be without a disposable bag. Every single day.
The potential is there. Will we get another Brownley (AB 68) vs. Davis (AB 87) bag fee debate that results only in legislative stagnation, or will the state’s greater environmental and economic need catalyze a legislative breakthrough in 2010? In his last year, will the Governor follow through on the promises of his Ocean Protection Council’s far reaching Marine Debris Action Plan, or will he become the Last Inaction Hero and watch the bag debate from the sidelines?
Will Los Angeles, along with other cities like Santa Monica and Manhattan Beach, complete environmental review documents and pass plastic bag bans and paper bag fees, or will it be paralyzed by the ongoing threat of litigation by the American Chemistry Council and the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition?
2010 could finally be the year that California beats its 19 billion plastic bag a year addiction. Let’s hope for the sake of our rivers, beaches, bays and the Pacific that locals and California finally get serious about the marine debris crisis.