A Day Without A Bag, By Heal The Bay


By Meredith McCarthy, Heal the Bay Programs Director

The holidays are a time for giving thanks – for family, for friends, for good will among all people. Here in Southern California we should also remember to be thankful for our oceans, which provide so much therapeutic and economic value to millions of beachgoers each year.

One of the biggest threats Heal the Bay sees to the ongoing health of our oceans is plastic pollution, which is unsightly and wasteful. It also can severely impact the birds and animals that call the shoreline and seas their home.

We’ve been fighting for years to educate people about the environmental and fiscal harm caused by our addiction to single-use plastic packaging, especially the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag. One of our biggest tools is “A Day Without a Bag,” our grassroots day of education and action to get people to give up wasteful shopping habits.

In a bid to wean Southland residents off their plastic addiction, we launched “A Day Without a Bag” during the holiday season, on the third Thursday of December.  We urge shoppers throughout the Southland to give a present to the environment during the holidays by foregoing plastic or paper grocery bags in favor of reusable totes. We make it easier by handing out tens of thousands of bags throughout LA County. (For a map of all giveaway sites, go to www.healthebay.org/dwab.)

In addition to trying to educate consumers and change behavior, we also encourage state and local legislators to pass meaningful legislation to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags. We are really starting to see a groundswell, both at checkout stands and at legislative meetings, for getting rid of the plastic plague.

This year’s A Day Without a Bag occurs as regional and statewide momentum builds against the proliferation of single-use bags. The Los Angeles City Council is readying a ban on single-use paper and plastic bags, with a vote expected next week.

California municipalities spend nearly $25 million each year just to collect and dispose of plastic bag waste. That’s money that could be better spent at fire stations or schoolhouses. And less than 5% of plastic grocery bags are recycled each year in Los Angeles, so the remainder clogs precious landfill, litters public spaces and harms animal life when the bags infiltrate waterways.

The idea behind “Day Without a Bag” is pretty simple – get the reusable bags in people’s hands so they can see how easy it is to make the switch to more convenient and sustainable alternatives. Since the inaugural event, we’ve handed out nearly 100,000 reusable bags to grateful shoppers.

When people switch to reusable bags, they have a direct impact on reducing litter in the waste stream and eliminating urban blight. They also can take satisfaction in knowing that they are helping save taxpayer dollars that are used to collect and dispose of bags – most of which provide 10 minutes of convenience but will last forever in landfills and oceans.

On Dec. 15, Heal the Bay volunteers will hand out free reusable bags at more than 60 locations throughout the Southland. “Green Santa” and his band of LA County Public Works eco-elves will also be on patrol at shopping areas up until New Year’s Day. Patrons “caught” using reusable bags will be rewarded with special prizes.

Significant corporate sponsors have also joined by providing in-store promotions for people who bring in their own bag, from 99 Cents Only stores to Ralphs supermarkets.

Spurred by the success of previous Heal the Bay events, community groups throughout the state and the beyond have launched their own “A Day Without a Bag” campaigns. Similar outreach programs have been held in San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Orange counties. This year like-minded organizations in Chicago, New Jersey, and even Kuwait City will be holding their own A Day Without a Bag.

LA County approved an ordinance that bans plastic bags in unincorporated areas of the county and places a charge on paper bags in November 2010. The measure kicked in July 1 for supermarkets and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012 for liquor stores and convenience markets.

Other municipalities that have banned single-use plastic bags include San Francisco, Santa Clara County, Monterey, Santa Monica, Malibu, Calabasas and Long Beach. Over 4 million residents in California now live in communities that have banned plastic bags and an additional 8 million live in cities actively working on bag ban ordinances. When these ordinances pass, nearly 1 in 3 Californians will live in a municipality that has taken action against harmful single-use bags.

Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica) has indicated that she plans to reintroduce a measure next year calling for a uniform statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, building on her previous legislative efforts.


Comments (2)

  1. Project GreenBag
    December 15th, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Project GreenBag is the sustainable, eco-friendly alternative to plastic bags. 100% organic cotton, biodegradable, and made in California.

    • LA Stormwater
      December 15th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

      Thanks for sharing this resource for shoppers to utilize instead of plastic bags, Project GreenBag! We are hopeful and confident that the “A Day Without a Bag” campaign stirs a great movement towards reusable bags and a litter free environment so we can keep our ocean clean!

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