L.A. Bag Ban Sends Strong Message

Will L.A. bag ban finally spur Sacramento to action?

The Los Angeles City Council’s energy and environment committee today approved an action asking for a Chief Administrative Officer-Chief Legislative Analyst report on a single-use bag ban within 30 days. Also, the Bureau of Sanitation must implement a public outreach program over the next 60 days.

Immediately after the committee meeting, the city council met to celebrate outgoing president Eric Garcetti’s long-term leadership. After Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue and the rest of the festivities, the council heard the bag-ban item.

Councilmember Paul Koretz amended councilmember Jan Perry’s E+E committee motion by including a March 31 deadline for final ordinance approval. In addition, public outreach and environmental review will all occur in parallel and will start immediately.

Nearly all of the present councilmembers strongly expressed their support for a plastic bag ban as soon as possible. Once again, the environmental community, neighborhood councils, the California Grocers Assn. and the L.A. Chamber of Commerce came out to support.

The council action today sends a loud message to Sacramento to move forward with a statewide ban. A continued patchwork quilt of various bag bans doesn’t make sense for the economy or for the environment. With the city of L.A. and its 4 million residents moving forward without plastic bags, the future of California could be truly plastic-bag free within the next year or two.

L.A. City Council Vote, Not in the Bag … Yet

A historic vote to bag single-use bags in L.A. is set for Friday at City Hall.

The Los Angeles City Council heard testimony from over 60 people today on the long-awaited single-use plastic bag ban.  The environmental community was well represented and attired in natty green.  Other supporters included reusable bag manufacturers, the California Grocers Assn., the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, and 17 neighborhood councils!  Clearly, a life without single-use plastic bags is a popular movement that has grown well beyond L.A. County, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica, Calabasas and other SoCal cities.

Opposition was provided by bag man Stephen “This bag is more than a toy” Joseph and Crown Poly bag manufacturing staff.  Joseph tried to tie the city council vote to California’s ranking by industry titans as the place they’d least likely want to do business.  I’m not sure where the ranking came from, but Joseph did say that Texas was No. 1.  Enough said.

Thanks to a prior commitment to the environmental community from Council President Eric Garcetti, the City Council heard the testimony. However, members were uncomfortable taking action without the bag ban first going through the Energy and Environment Committee.

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Cowell Doesn’t Give a Toss About the Beach

Thank you Simon Cowell.  An irate Heal the Bay member wrote a scathing e-mail encouraging us to take a stand against your ocean pollution commercial. It’s bad enough that my 12-year-old daughter Natalie is obsessed with his “American Idol” rip-off, “The X-Factor.”  (Try getting her to study when she’s sucked into the battle among Kitty, Misha B and 2 Shoes.) But now he’s doing a Verizon “X-Factor” app promo that encourages the trashing of a Malibu beach. In the spot, Cowell is seen tossing cell phones off his beachside balcony onto the shoreline while disparaging them as rubbish.

Cell phones contain a wide variety of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, antimony, beryllium, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, and zinc. They also can contain brominated flame retardants and phthalates. Perpetuating our throwaway culture to over 12 million viewers isn’t exactly helping the cause of ocean conservation.

Cowell ends the spot by admonishing a family on the beach to not pick up the trash.  Even the leashed puppy complies with the bombastic Brit’s orders. If Cowell gets busted for bad behavior, I hope his community service is participation in Coastal Cleanup Day for life.

The Brits are always giving us trash: Gordon Ramsay, The Osbournes, the Spice Girls, Jason Statham, soccer (just kidding on that one, sort of).  Now they’re trashing our beaches.  Wasn’t British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill bad enough?

Protecting Toddlers

Milk, not BPA, for babies

As a Jewish parent and environmental scientist, I am consumed by guilt for taking the baby bottle shortcut when feeding our kids many years ago.  Yes, I put formula, and even – gasp –breast milk, in a plastic bottle and heated  it for 30 seconds in the microwave to satiate our kids and get them to stop crying. Who knows what was leached from those indestructible, clear plastic baby bottles while I was heating milk to lukewarm temperatures.

Of all people, I should have known better.  As more information came out in the public health literature about the risks of consuming Bisphenol A (BPA), an organic chemical used to produce polycarbonate plastics that are clear and nearly shatterproof, my guilt grew over exposing my three kids to an endocrine disrupting, potential neurotoxin and carcinogen.

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Chico Bags a Big Win

ChicoBag's Bag Monster Image

ChicoBag Monster scores a win over the Plastics Industry

In a victory for sustainability, the nuisance lawsuit filed by Big Plastic against reusable bag entrepreneur Andy Keller has been settled. The SLAPP suit, designed to silence Keller’s small ChicoBag company in its claims that single use plastic bags are an environmental and economic nightmare, resulted in a settlement that requires both sides to provide citations for their stated facts.

Considering how fast and loose the plastic bag industry has been playing with the facts, there’s no question that the settlement favors Chico.

More important, the settlement demonstrates that the bag manufacturers bullying tactics will not succeed at intimidating California’s green businesses to stop fighting for a clean environment.

All too often, you hear rhetoric from corporate fat cats that we need tort reform to eliminate frivolous lawsuits to help businesses. Here is a case where anti-environmental businesses brought the frivolous lawsuit. I wonder if Big Plastic has learned that lawsuits designed to hamper start-up sustainable businesses only give their industry a bad name.

Supporting green businesses helps our economy and protects the environment. In this case, Keller has stood up to polluters with an unequivocal answer to the decades old question: “Paper or plastic?” Andy answered, “Neither. Buy reusable.”

Let’s hope that his courage is rewarded by record sales and a consumer population that agrees with him at the cash register.

Sweet Justice

Major Corporate Interests Lose at the Supreme Court! A dream headline to be sure, but it wasn’t a U.S. Supreme Court decision. It was California’s Supreme Court that did the right thing Thursday. The court issued a unanimous opinion that Manhattan Beach did not need to complete a burdensome and costly EIR to move forward with its single-use plastic bag ban. Major props to Manhattan Beach for sticking with this case all the way to the Supreme Court.

The decision should lead to the proliferation of more local plastic bag bans throughout the state. The city of Los Angeles has no further excuses to delay moving forward with a citywide ban on plastic bags. The Mayor and City Council long ago agreed to move forward on a ban, but the looming EIR requirement was used as an excuse to delay action.

John Murdock, Heal the Bay’s attorney on the case said, “I think the issue will fade from the litigation scene unless the plastics industry just wants to toss away more money for harassment purposes.”

Murdock’s arguments representing Heal the Bay as an amicus in the case were some of the prevailing arguments. His brief emphasized that Manhattan Beach’s ordinance is environmentally beneficial, not detrimental.  Also, the court looked favorably on his argument that the city is far too small to cause significant impacts on such enormous issues as global warming and deforestation, in the unlikely event consumers switched from plastic to paper.

Stephen Joseph, poster boy and attorney for the plastic bag industry, and the plastic bag manufacturers may finally stop picking on cities that attempt to protect our aquatic environment through bag bans. Also, the decision sends a strong message that these frivolous lawsuits brought by polluting interests against environmental laws under the guise of the California Environmental Quality Act are a waste of time and money.


Andy vs. The Plastic Goliath

Big Plastic is trying to silence Andy Keller, aka The Bag Monster, via an intimidating lawsuit.

In a bullying move that demonstrates just how devoid of morals and ethics most plastic bag manufacturers may be, Hilex Poly Co., Superbag Operating and Advance Polybag have sued ChicoBag on the grounds that the reusable bag manufacturer has “irreparably harmed” their businesses.

If you don’t know, ChicoBag is a small Northern California-based business that makes cool reusable bags that fold up into tiny, highly portable pouches. You probably have seen them at the checkout stand at select grocery stores and other retailers. The head of ChicoBag is a young entrepreneur named Andy Keller who is absolutely passionate about the environment’s need for us to break our addiction to single-use plastic packaging.

As a result, Andy created ChicoBag and the “bag monster,” a costume made of 500 plastic bags (about the average number of bags used annually per person in the U.S).  The bag monster has been a huge hit in schools, rallies, council chambers, and press events in getting the point across about plastic pollution.

The plastic bag manufacturing industry wasn’t amused by Andy’s bag monster or his use of statements and facts on the size of our bag addiction and the perils of plastic bags in the marine environment.  As a result, these three enormous companies sued Andy in South Carolina.

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Long Beach Fights Back

Long Beach bears the brunt of plastic pollution from the L.A. River. Its new ban on plastic bags may help.

The movement to ban plastic bags in California scored a major victory when the Long Beach City Council voted 5-0 last night to support a disposable bag ban based on the Los Angeles County bag ordinance. Heal the Bay boardmember Suja Lowenthal spearheaded the City Council effort to ban single use plastic  bags, but Dee Andrews’ support for the ordinance was key. (Five votes were needed as there were four absences). 

Large retailers are required to stop giving out single use plastic bags by August, with smaller retailer requirements kicking in for January. Like the county’s ordinance, retailers are allowed to sell “green” paper bags for a dime as an alternative. But the message from Long Beach remains strong:  Use reusable bags instead of single use bags.

Long Beach has a lot to gain from the bag ban because the city sits at the bottom of the heavily urbanized, over 1500-square mile L.A. and San Gabriel River watersheds. As a result, Long Beach beaches bear the brunt of our society’s irresponsible waste disposal behavior.

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Plastic Paradise

Heal the Bay's Kirsten James, left, and Sarah Sikich, right, enjoy a shave ice with their fellow eco-activist Leslie Tamminen. The group participated in the just concluded International Marine Debris Conference in Hawaii.

Today’s guest bloggers are Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s Water Quality Director, and Sarah Sikich, Coastal Resources Director. Here they discuss their experience traveling to Hawaii last week and participating in the 5th International Marine Debris Conference.

Sarah: It’s unreal – spending a week in Hawaii for work! Not to mention meeting some of the leading researchers, government agencies, environmental organizations, and explorers working on marine debris and plastic pollution issues. Was there any research presented that you found particularly memorable?

Kirsten: It’s hard to pick just one presentation but one that stands out is the work being done by Dr. Jan A. van Franeker from the Netherlands.  He gave several revealing talks on his research with Northern Fulmars, a marine bird species. He found that in the North Sea, the “average” Northern Fulmar flies around with 0.3 grams of plastic in the stomach, rising to 0.6 grams in more polluted areas.  If you scale this bird up to the size of an average human, that would equal 30 grams of plastic, resembling a lunchbox full of plastic sheets, foams, threads and fragments!  How about you, did any of the presentations stand out?

Sarah: I’m glad to see how much research is being focused on endocrine disruptors and plastics. Many researchers in the field have raised concerns about whether chemicals associated with plastics are leaching into the tissues of wildlife and fish ingesting this trash. Previously little work had been done to determine whether this was actually occurring. Several scientists presented preliminary research at the conference showing that chemical plastic additives (like phthalates and Bisphenol A) and PCBs that stick to plastics are present in the tissues of animals that have ingested plastic materials. Potential hormone system disruption is also of concern. Pretty scary stuff.  But, at least we were learning about it in blissful, tropical Hawaii. How did the conference location influence your experience?

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A Good Start …

Lowenthal: bag hero in L.B.

So far, so good.  Yesterday was the first critical date for the coast this month and Long Beach and L.A. got the ball rolling.  Last night, the Long Beach City Council voted 6-2 to approve a single-use plastic bag ban ordinance identical to the L.A. County’s recently enacted measure.  Like the county, grocers and other retailers can sell green paper bags for a dime with 100% of the proceeds going to the store.  The only difference in the ordinance is that the start date is Aug. 1 next year instead of July 1.

The momentum on local bag bans is definitely growing.  Long Beach is a city of nearly half a million people and it joins the over 1 million people in the county’s unincorporated area with bag ban ordinances in place locally.  Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal led the way on advocating for the bag ban measure. Support from the environmental community, some grocery store chains and the grocers’ union made a big difference in the final vote.

Meanwhile n Los Angeles, the city council’s Energy and Environment committee finally heard the Low Impact Development ordinance that the Board of Public Works unanimously approved in January.  Although the panel did not vote on the proposal, it appears that chair Jan Perry and members Paul Krekorian and Paul Koretz support the measure.  Perry postponed the vote to the Dec. 14 meeting, but she made it clear that she wanted the full council vote before members go on winter recess on Dec. 17.

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