Preliminary results are in on California’s grand experiment to reduce plastic bag litter along its majestic coastline and streams.
Take a bow, California voters. It’s working.
The early litter data from the Coastal Clean-up Day, held annually in September, shows that plastic bag litter had dropped by 72 percent when compared to 2010. Plastic bags now account for less than 1.5 percent of all litter, compared to nearly 10 percent in 2010.
In Alameda County, officials reported finding 433 plastic bags, compared to 4,357 in 2010. Monterey County reported even better news, with volunteers discovering only 43 plastic bags while performing their clean-up efforts, compared to 2,494 in 2010.
“We are seeing a substantial decline in plastic grocery bags litter on beaches, rivers and parkways,” said John Laird, California’s Secretary for Natural Resources and a former Santa Cruz mayor and legislator.
California voters did their homework in 2016 when they went to the polls and voted yes on Proposition 67, upholding the state Legislature’s 2014 first-in-the-nation plastic bag ban.
Get tech news in your inbox weekday mornings. Sign up for the free Good Morning Silicon Valley newsletter.
Until this year, every Californian, on average, used about 400 plastic bags a year, forcing the state to spend an estimated $400 million — or roughly $10 per resident — every year trying to clean them up.
Voters in 2016 also threw out Proposition 65, one of the most disingenuous ballot measures in state history. Plastic bag makers from South Carolina, Texas and New Jersey spent $6 million in an effort to convince voters to support a measure that appeared to be environmentally friendly but would have in effect likely killed the ban.
Until Prop 67 was approved, the plastic bags industry sold about 15 billion single-use plastic bags to California consumers, draining about 2 million barrels of oil in the process.
Prior to the ban, the state went to great lengths to convince residents to recycle the bags, but the effort resulted in consistent failure. Californians only recycled 3 percent of them, leaving billions to scatter across our beaches, rivers, roads and neighborhoods. Plastic accounts for 60 percent to 80 percent of all marine debris and harms and kills wildlife in devastating numbers.
More than 100 California cities and counties, including every Bay Area county with the exception of Contra Costa, had enacted a plastic bag ban before the Legislature took action.
It’s unfortunate that other states, particularly those with coastlines, have refused to follow California’s lead. Hawaii is the only other state in the nation to ban plastic bags, and its law includes a loophole that many retailers are using to use hand out thicker plastic bags to shoppers.
More than 50 cities and towns in Massachusetts have outlawed plastic bags, but the state hasn’t done the same. Three states — Idaho, Missouri and Arizona — inexplicably have passed laws forbidding individual cities or counties from passing plastic bag bans.
California is proving that its plastic bag ban stops litter from polluting our waterways and filling up our landfills, demonstrating again the state’s leadership role on environmental issues.