Brown goes green as California bans plastic bags

The green movement in the United States continues to make waves in California legislation. Statewide, cities are becoming more bike-friendly and power is being harnessed more efficiently though solar energy. Recently, California made a big step in the green direction by becoming the first state to ban all single-use plastic bags statewide. On September 30, Governor Jerry Brown signed the nation’s first statewide bill banning the use of all single-use plastic bags. The bill itself, SB 270, was joint authored by Senators Alex Padilla, Ricardo Lara, and Kevin de Leon.

The plastic bag ban was not alone, as environmentalists were among the biggest winners of the 2014 legislation. Many environmentalist bills died amid industry opposition in 2013, including an attempt to ban the use of orca whales in entertainment shows, as well as a bill that would have temporarily prohibited an oil extraction technique known as ‘fracking’.

The statewide bag ban did not appear out of nowhere, as over 120 local governments, including areas like San Francisco, Long Beach, and even Santa Monica, had already passed ordinances banning single-use plastic bags before the bill, due to support from community and environmental groups.

The new law is going to prohibit grocery stores and pharmacies from having plastic bags available starting July 1, 2015. Similarly, the law will also ban plastic bags from convenience and liquor stores beginning on July 1, 2016.

The bill seems inherently aware that this may cause some financial trouble for manufacturers, so it’s also providing $2.00 million dollars in loans and grants to California manufacturer companies so they are better able to retain workers and eventually adapt to developing reusable bags.

SB 270 does not remain without opposition. The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a Washington, D.C. based advocacy group plans to gather enough signatures to repeal the law and possibly place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot.

The APBA defends plastic bags with the reasoning that over 90 percent of Americans already reuse their plastic bags for trash disposal among other uses. They also argue that plastic bags generate less waste than paper bags, being that, according to their website, “Plastic bags are fully recyclable and the number of recycling programs is increasing daily.”

Supporters of the referendum would need 504,760 signatures from registered voters in order to make it onto the statewide ballot.

The statewide ban won’t make much of a splash in Santa Monica, considering that the city is among the many areas that already had a ban on plastic bags in enforcement, specifically since September 1, 2011.

Santa Monica College followed suit, with the main campus bookstore ending its plastic bag availability at that time, and sold paper and nylon bags for under one dollar as alternatives.

Though they are effective substitutions, the paper and nylon bags are still unpopular to some.

The bags available at the main campus are not entirely free of their own environmental faults, according to Andrea Gonzalez, Associated Students Director of Sustainability at SMC.

“[The nylon bags] are not that great honestly. The thing about the nylon bags is that a lot of them enable some chemicals and are still plastic,” she says. “Currently I’m working on a proposal to get reusable bags that have no aluminum, no lead, made in the US, printed in the US, so we stop our carbon footprint.”

For Gonzalez, SMC’s eco-problems do not begin and end with plastic bags, next she plans to tackle the plastic bottle problem on campus. “I feel like just taking them out of our vending machines once and for all will be great,” she said. Gonzalez suggests having reusable bottles be accessible to students as well as informing students of water stations on campus.

“Plastic bottles can be in the ocean forever. No one really pays attention to them. It causes a lot of health issues, so it would be great to implement some sort of ban on bottles of water,” she said.

Gonzalez also notices an entirely different obstacle in the path of the school’s green movement: lack of awareness, which is the first step to promoting a healthier environment.

“[We have to] communicate with students, host workshops, host big events where people actually see flyers that the bottles and bags are banned,” Gonzalez added. “Informing and educating students should be the first step.”