L.A. County Blazes a Plastic Trail

The county's ban on plastic bags will help take tons of harmful trash out of local waterways like the L.A. River

In an interesting twist, Los Angeles County is the new statewide leader on breaking Californians’ 19-billion-a-year addiction to single-use shopping bags.  The Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 today to ban plastic and paper bags in unincorporated areas of the county and allow grocery stores, drug stores and convenience stores to charge a dime for green paper bags.  The ordinance is the farthest-reaching bag ban ordinance in California and should result in a 600 million-bag-a-year reduction in the county.

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Taking Out the Trash

New trash limits for S.M. Bay may make this depressing scene a thing of the past.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board voted 4-1 Thursday to approve tough, new marine debris limits for Santa Monica Bay.  The limits, based on 11 similar trash Total Maximum Daily Loads in the Los Angeles region, give Santa Monica Bay watershed cities, Los Angeles County and land management agencies like State Parks, eight years to reduce the amount of trash going into the Bay to zero. Compliance  can be met by installing full capture mechanisms like trash screens and inserts or other state-approved devices.  All devices must be adequately designed, operated and maintained to meet state requirements.  Full adherence is mandated within eight years.

The action marks the last trash abatement measure required under the 1999 TMDL Consent Decree among Heal the Bay, the Santa Monica Baykeeper, the NRDC and the federal EPA. The vote truly marks a major water quality milestone. Congratulations to the Regional Water Board members for their groundbreaking leadership on trash abatement regulations.

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A Reusable Campaign?

Heal the Bay volunteers handing out bags in Culver City

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.

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Gateway Garbage

Will federal stimulus funds end lawsuits over cleaning L.A. Riverr?

Will stimulus funds end lawsuits over cleaning L.A. River?

Great news from last week.  The Obama administration awarded $10 million in stimulus funds to prevent trash from getting in to the Los Angeles River and San Pedro Bay.  The shocking pictures of Long Beach after a rain often show a few feet of trash piled along the shore.  The L.A. River is so polluted that it ranks on California’s list of impaired waters.  The Regional Water Board even approved river specific water quality standards that require zero trash getting in the river by 2014.  The so-called Total Maximum Daily Load limit is one of the most far reaching environmental regulations in the country.

With the $10 million, the Los Angeles Gateway Region Integrated Regional Water Management Authority (I don’t make up these names) will design and install trash-capture devices to comply with these regulations in the cities of Bell, Bell Gardens, Commerce, Compton, Cudahy, Downey, Huntington Park, Long Beach, Lynwood, Maywood, Montebello, Paramount, Pico Rivera, Signal Hill, South Gate and Vernon.

As required under the trash regulation, the full capture devices are designed to prevent 100% of the trash greater than five millimeters in diameter from reaching the L.A.River after a three-quarter inch storm.  The L.A. Gateway Authority claimed that the stimulus funds will prevent garbage from trashing the river and the bay, and the funds will create over 100 jobs over the next two years.  All great stuff.  Congratulations.

So why don’t I feel all warm and happy inside?

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I Give Up!

What's Evian spelled backwards?

What's Evian spelled backwards?

Heal the Bay has spent years fighting the environmental scourge of marine debris. We’ve organized thousands of beach and river cleanups and we led the fight for the California Ocean Protection Council’s Marine Debris Action Plan.  In addition, we’ve fought for bans on Styrofoam and plastic bags and we came up with a flotilla of bills tackling marine debris.  All of this effort was in response to the environmental consequences of our addiction to single-use plastic packaging.

Now that I’ve seen the incredible roller-skating, rapping baby ad for Evian water, I’ve reconsidered Heal the Bay’s position.  Clearly, flying over French water in petrochemical plastic packages makes people feel young again.  Climate change be damned.  Those babies are so darned cute and boy can they skate!

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Bagging a Win

plastic bagLast night, the Santa Monica City Council took statewide leadership on the single-use bag issue by opting to fund an EIR that needs to be completed if the city is to adopt its long-awaited ordinance to ban plastic bags and charge a fee for paper bags at retail outlets.

The measure has been stalled by a recent misguided court ruling that required cities’ to complete EIRs if they wanted to remove single-use bags from their borders.

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Pacific Protection

The state’s California Ocean Protection Council (OPC) today released its long-awaited comprehensive action plan to reduce marine debris and protect the $46 billion annual coastal economy.  The report makes many far-ranging recommendations, including banning plastic bags and Styrofoam food packaging, banning smoking on the beach, setting up fees for plastic trash, tackling the derelict fishing gear problem, increasing fines for littering, and reducing or eliminating toxics in plastics that end up in the ocean.  It also urges extended producer responsibility programs, like they have for car batteries where the manufacturers or sellers of an item have to take it back. All great stuff. However, what the report doesn’t do is an even larger concern.

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