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It's Official: Plastic Bags Banned in California
California Gov. Jerry Brown added his signature this morning and made it official: single-use plastic bags are being banned from many of the state's retail establishments. SB 270, passed by the legislature and sent to Gov. Brown's desk for final approval in late August, phases out the bags, starting with large grocery stores and pharmacies in July 2015, and in convenience and liquor stores one year later. California is the first state to ban the bags, although many cities across the country have done so. This came despite heavy lobbying and spending from "Big Plastic," led by out-of-state bag manufacturers.
“This bill is a step in the right direction—it reduces the torrent of plastic polluting our beaches, parks and even the vast ocean itself,” said Brown. “We’re the first to ban these bags, and we won’t be the last.”
The bill was authored by state senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley. Today he said, "I applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 270 into law. A throw-away society is not sustainable. Moving from single-use plastic bags to reusable bags is common sense. Governor Brown’s signature reflects our commitment to protect the environment and reduce government costs."
The environmental and citizen groups who spent a decade working toward this day were exultant.
“From the thousands of sea turtles that are now safer from plastic bags to the thousands of volunteers who remove these bags from our beaches and rivers, this bill means a cleaner ocean for everyone,” said Nathan Weaver of Environment California, one of the groups behind the effort. “I applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 270 and phasing out single-use plastic bags. Nothing we use for a few minutes should pollute our ocean for hundreds of years.”
“California policy makers have made a clear statement in enacting the bag ban: producers are responsible for the end of life impacts of their products,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, the bill’s sponsor. “If a product is too costly to society and the environment, California is prepared to move to eliminate it.”
127 California cities, towns and counties have already banned the bags, including major cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, Long Beach and San Jose, covering more than a third of the state's population. San Francisco was the first city in the country to regulate them, starting in 2007.
"For nearly 10 million Californians, life without plastic grocery bags is already a reality,” said Murray. “Bag bans reduce plastic pollution and waste, lower bag costs at grocery stores and now we’re seeing job growth in California at facilities that produce better alternatives. Forty years ago there were no plastic grocery bags; four years from now, we’ll forget there ever were."
Heal the Bay, another group involved in ban campaign, said that this is just the beginning of their efforts to rid the state of trash pollution.
"Plastic bags serve as a 'gateway' issue for us, getting people to think more sustainably in other areas of their life, whether it's skipping plastic water bottles or refusing drinking straws," said the group. "Following this victory, Heal the Bay will pivot to a comprehensive statewide solution for trash control—a strong statewide trash policy that would compel all municipalities to meet strict numeric reductions in the amount of trash they send to our local rivers and ocean waterways."
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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