Heal the Bay Blog

Category: California Bag Ban

Experts say that the best way to break an unhealthy habit is to replace it with a healthy one. And Heal the Bay is here to help you replace your plastic shopping bags with reusables as you shop this holiday season.

To prepare, we’re busily organizing the distribution of thousands of reusable bags across Los Angeles on November 18.

Sound familiar? For the past six years, we’ve made “plastic-free” a holiday shopping tradition, trotting out Green Santa to help us spread eco-friendly cheer for what we used to call “Day Without a Bag.”

Now, to help Angelenos adjust to the upcoming plastic bag ban (effective Jan. 1, 2014), we’ve rebranded this annual citywide event as “Day With a Bag” to get shoppers accustomed to bringing their own reusable bags to the market.

We worked hard to help pass the citywide ban. Yet, despite feeling elated with the victory, we remain focused and hopeful that our efforts will fuel a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags soon.

In the meantime, enjoy the fact that by going reusable, you’re also gifting the planet this holiday season.

We’re giving away nearly 10,000 reusable shopping bags, so find a giveaway location near you!

We did it! After seven years of hard work and diligence, California is poised to become the first state in the nation to ban single-use plastic grocery bags. The overwhelming response has been one of excitement, but we realize there are some residents who have concerns. Nancy Shrodes, our volunteer coordinator, answers a few typical questions.

How do I pick up my dog’s poop?

Yes, plastic bags are handy for picking up animal waste, but there are alternative and easy ways to continue to be a responsible pet owner! For example, you can bring last week’s newspaper on your walk and use it to pick up poop. You can also re-use the grocery store produce bags or other forms of food packaging like bagel or bread bags.

I line my trash cans with plastic bags from the grocery store. Now what am I going to use?

Line the bottom of your bin with newspaper or other paper, and rinse it out periodically after use. You can also buy heavier-weight plastic bags and REUSE them after dumping waste into your outside bin. 

What about using biodegradable bags?

A “biodegradable” plastic bag is a bit of a misnomer. These bags can only break down under very specific conditions and do NOT break down naturally in our waterways, posing a threat to animal life. Bags on our streets inevitably end up in our rivers and ocean, facilitated by the city’s storm drain system. To fully degrade, these bags require heat and specific bacteria present in industrial composting facilities.

Will I get sick from using a reusable bag?

No! I have been using reusable bags for years and have never gotten sick from them. You can easily avoid any chance of getting sick with easy-care tips. Just use common sense and everyday hygiene. Throw your cloth/fabric tote bags into the wash with your laundry load to clean them. Any of the thick plastic reusable bags should be wiped clean and allowed to dry before you store them. Voilà! You are germ free and the environment is healthier too!

Aren’t there bigger things to worry about than plastic bags?

Yes, the world is filled with many pressing problems. But Heal the Bay has spent a lot of attention to this issue because plastic bags ARE a big problem — blighting neighborhoods, clogging storm drains and harming animals. They are also a powerful symbol of our throwaway culture. This is a gateway issue for us. The healthy debate about bags gets people to think about other wasteful practices in their daily lives, be it using single-use water bottles or taking a drinking straw at the corner restaurant. Little things add up to bigger things. 

Before joining Heal the Bay, Nancy worked on the bag ban campaign for Environment California.

To help educate California state legislators about the ecological and economic importance of the sea to all Californians, Heal the Bay staff joined our fellow environmental advocates in the 6th annual Ocean Day at the state Capitol on April 16, 2013. The event lets us work with policymakers to find effective legislative solutions that protect and restore California’s iconic ocean and coastline.

Ocean Day participants, representing over a dozen non-governmental organizations, were able to stop by the offices of all 120 California senators and assemblymembers to discuss preventing stormwater runoff and plastic pollution, the success of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, and the impacts of climate change to California’s inland and coastal communities.

The timing of Ocean Day couldn’t have been better. Two important bills that would help prevent plastic pollution from trashing our communities and beaches were heard in the Senate’s Environmental Quality Committee the day after the event: SB 405 and SB 529.

SB 405, introduced by Sen. Padilla (D-Pacoima), would phase out single-use plastic bags in California grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, and pharmacies and place a charge on single-use paper bags with the hope of encouraging people to bring reusable bags. The bill cleared the Senate Environmental Quality Committee with the votes of Sens. Hill (D-San Mateo), Hancock (D-Berkeley), Leno (D-San Francisco), Corbett (D-Hayward) and Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). It will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Heal the Bay has long supported passage of a statewide single-use bag bill as a means to comprehensively address the negative environmental and economic impacts caused by single-use plastic bags, and Ocean Day presented another opportunity to educate legislators on plastic pollution before this critical Committee vote. As Sen. Padilla noted in a news release about the committee hearing, “Single-use plastic bags are not just a coastal issue. In our mountains, the winds blow discarded bags up into the trees, you can also find them in our rivers and streams, in our parks, and throughout our communities. It is a statewide problem that deserves a statewide solution — a solution that focuses on reducing the use of plastic bags.” We will continue to work with Sen. Padilla’s office to ensure passage of this important (and long-overdue) piece of legislation.

Another bill supported by Heal the Bay – SB 529, introduced by Sen. Leno (D-San Francisco) – would move fast-food chain restaurants away from foamed polystyrene and other nonrecyclable/noncompostable plastics, again with the hope of encouraging more sustainable packaging options. The bill also passed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee with the votes of Sens. Hill, Hancock, Corbett, Leno and Jackson. It will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Novelist Ralph Ellison said that education is all a matter of building bridges. Ocean Day was an opportunity for Heal the Bay and others to reach out to legislators and educate them on the problem of plastic pollution and possible legislative solutions. This information was clearly heard by legislators, and today’s Environmental Quality Committee hearing was an important step in ending California’s addition to single-use plastics. Stay tuned for updates on these bills throughout the legislative session!

— Kathryn Benz, Heal the Bay Policy Analyst

Live in the city of Los Angeles? Urge your councilmember to finalize the single-use bag ordinance that will keep plastic bags from trashing our communities and beaches!

 “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

― Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

We know that billions of single-use plastic bags are used in Los Angeles every year, and that the majority of single-use plastic bags – even if reused once or twice by consumers – end up in our landfills or as part of the litter stream, polluting our inland and coastal communities and wasting taxpayer dollars on cleanup costs.

Los Angeles, we are at a tipping point when it comes to tackling the scourge of plastic bag pollution.

On May 23, 2012, the Los Angeles City Council voted to move forward with drafting an ordinance that would ban single-use plastic bags and place a charge on paper bags at grocery stores and select other retailers throughout the City. The Bureau of Sanitation recently released its draft Environmental Impact Report (PDF) for public review and comment; comments are due on March 11, 2013. It is our hope that the City Council will vote on the ordinance later this spring.

If adopted, Los Angeles will be the largest city in the United States to approve a single-use bag ordinance, and its passage will send a clear message to the rest of the state (and country) that addressing plastic bag waste (and by implication, our disposable consumer culture) is an idea whose time has come.

In fact, once passed, Los Angeles will join the company of 65 California counties and cities that have banned plastic bags, including many jurisdictions in SoCal. And by the looks of it, that number is set to grow; City Councils in Sacramento, Culver City and Huntington Beach, among others, are currently engaged in discussions about whether to enact their own single-use bag ordinances. The idea of reducing the economic waste and environmental impacts associated with single-use bag litter has even spread to the California statehouse where State Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and State Assembly Member Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) have introduced bag bills.

But first we have to reach the tipping point by passing the Los Angeles bag ordinance. Stay tuned for more information about the City Council’s final vote later this spring and how you can get involved! Follow us on Twitter to stay-up-to-date.

Want to help reduce marine debris? Join one of our cleanups!

Stay engaged with Heal the Bay as we head toward the finish line in Los Angeles.

On May 16, Heal the Bay honors three supporters who’ve lent their formidable voices to protecting the ocean from plastic pollution at our annual benefit gala Bring Back the Beach.

In 2010, Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons narrated our mockumentary The Majestic Plastic Bag, lending gravitas to the story of a single-use plastic bag as it migrates to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The film screened at the Sundance film festival and remains popular on the film festival circuit. To date, The Majestic Plastic Bag has been viewed more than 1.8 million times on Heal the Bay’s YouTube channel.

We honor Jeremy Irons, not merely for sharing his rich, haunting voice with us, but for his ongoing work to stop the proliferation of trash. In his new feature documentary “Trashed: No Place for Waste,” Irons takes a different journey, this one following the migration of rubbish, the tons of waste that goes unaccounted for each year. Irons serves as the film’s chief investigator as well as the executive producer.

Heal the Bay will also honor our longtime champion Mark Gold for his years of laser-like focus and tireless advocacy in support of clean water. Mark was Heal the Bay’s first employee and served with our organization for 25 years, leading and inspiring our work as our executive director and president. He continues to support us as a researcher, fundraiser and board member. We can count on Mark as a sounding board, resource and guiding force as we tackle future attacks on clean water.

Philanthropist Dr. Howard Murad will be honored on May 16 for raising awareness for environmental issues and causes. Employees from Dr. Murad’s skincare company Murad, Inc. have joined us on numerous beach cleanups, as well as solidly supporting our efforts in curtailing marine debris.

You’re invited to join our celebration of these eco warriors on May 16, 2013 at the Jonathan Beach Club.

Reusable bags are often hot topics of discussion, as they became again recently when professors of law Jonathan Klick and Joshua Wright from the University of Pennsylvania and George Mason University, respectively, released a research paper titled “Grocery Bag Bans and Foodborne Illnesses.” The study looked at emergency-room statistics in San Francisco County and found a 46% increase in deaths from foodborne illnesses after the county banned plastic bags in 2007, which the authors implies correlates to an increase of 5.5 deaths year.  

Is this the first time we’ve seen reports trying to link reusable bags to foodborne-illnesses? No. But as with previous studies on this topic, the most effective way to respond to them is using sound science. That’s what Tomás Aragón, Health Officer of San Francisco, did to respond to the Klick and Wright study.  In a memo composed in response to the study, Aragón notes that “Based on review of this paper, and our disease surveillance and death registry data, the Klick & Wright’s conclusion that San Francisco’s policy of banning of plastic bags as caused a significant increase in gastrointestinal bacterial infections and a ’46 percent increase in the deaths from foodborne illnesses’ is not warranted.” Aragón also reminds us of several important research considerations, including:

  • Law professors and epidemiologist use different study designs to infer causality.
  • Research studies with alarming conclusions can alarm the public, so be cautious.
  • Collaborating with experts in other disciplines often leads to better science.

Once again, sound science prevails!

Read Aragón’s full response to the Kick and Wright study here.

Want to learn more about the high cost of plastic bags? Consult our list of Frequently Asked Questions.

It’s official: The Glendale City Council just voted to adopt a single-use bag ordinance. With this unanimous vote, Glendale becomes one of the largest inland communities to ban plastic bags in California.

Modeled after the 2011 L.A. County ordinance, Glendale’s version will become effective on Jan. 1, 2014, and applies to grocery stores, large pharmacies, and most convenience stores. Farmer’s markets, city-sponsored events or any event held on city property will also be prohibited from distributing single-use plastic bags.

Learn more about the ordinance.

Why are plastic bags so bad? Read our Plastic Bag 101 to find out.

As representatives of Heal the Bay, we often get asked: “Is the bay healed yet?” People know we’ve been at this a long time (more than 25 years). While the answer is a qualified “yes,” we still work every day to fulfill our mission to make southern California’s coastal waters and watersheds, including Santa Monica Bay safe, healthy and clean. Our tools?  Science, education, community action and advocacy.

Each year we discuss where we’ve been, where we’re headed and how we’re going to get there. It’s a valuable process requiring that we all know what our HtB colleagues are up to: whether we’re teaching school kids at our Aquarium, coordinating our next advocacy campaign or analyzing water samples in Malibu Creek.

Here’s what we came up with for our goals of 2013:


Marine Protected Areas and Fisheries

In 2013, we plan to continue to build our MPA Watch program. We will review data collected by MPA Watch volunteers and interns, and share it with management, enforcement, and other monitoring agencies to help understand and evaluate how local Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are being used. We also plan to inform and evaluate the development of fisheries management plans for key southern California fisheries, including spiny lobster. Additionally, in 2013, we will work with local and statewide partners to advance the statewide sustainable seafood policy developed by the Ocean Protection Council (with Heal the Bay’s involvement) and local efforts to promote sustainable seafood. On the education front, we are playing a leadership role in creating new MPA curriculum for teachers with the Southern California Aquarium Collaborative.  

Stream Team

Heal the Bay will continue to develop our Stream Team program. We plan to begin evaluating watershed impacts associated with agricultural development in the Santa Monica Mountains, including vineyards. Additionally, we hope to inspire residents and recreationists in the watershed to become Creek Stewards, and help scout for watershed health impacts throughout these mountains.

Malibu Creek Watershed

We will educate local partner groups and management agencies about the findings of Heal the Bay’s State of the Malibu Creek Watershed report. We will also work with watershed partners and policymakers to prioritize and implement recommendations detailed in the report aimed at improving local stream and watershed health.

Predicting Beach Water Quality

Heal the Bay will continue our partnership with Stanford University in developing a predictive beach water quality models. The models will use oceanic and atmospheric factors (i.e. tides, waves, temperature, wind direction etc.) as inputs to forecast indicator bacteria concentrations at beaches, as means of providing early “nowcast” warnings of human health risks (our current methods take 18-24 hours to process, leaving the public with day-old water quality information). We plan to develop simple models for 25 different California beaches that will rapidly “predict” when beaches are in or out of compliance with water quality standards. Additionally, these models will be helpful in identifying and prioritizing beach cleanup and abatement priorities.


Youth Summits

To take student learning beyond the classroom into community action and civic engagement, Heal the Bay will organize more youth summits. Students learn how to protect what they love through adjusting their own behavior, speaking publicly to businesses and governments and educating others in their local communities.  This year we will focus on scheduling these events quarterly, formalizing their structure, and expanding their reach throughout Los Angeles County high schools.     

Teacher Opportunities

Heal the Bay will expand our teacher education and professional development opportunities in 2013.  New workshops and field experiences will be offered to help increase teacher expertise in teaching environmental principles and concepts, marine and watershed science knowledge, and best practices for melding field and laboratory activities into their own classroom curricula. 

Santa Monica Pier Aquarium

To further educate the 75,000-80,000 annual visitors to the Aquarium about water conservation, we plan to overhaul the Green Room, named after Heal the Bay’s founding president Dorothy Green, with a new exhibit in her honor. The education room will include interactive, bilingual exhibits on watershed education and the urban water cycle, as well as a space dedicated to Dorothy’s accomplishments and inspirational vision.

Classroom Enrichment

In 2013, we’ll expand our environmental education outreach to more low-income communities and to a wider range of age groups. Through our partnership with the Discovery by Nature program, we’ll be able to reach classrooms in underserved communities, where public education in the sciences — as well as field trip funding — are limited.


A “Yes” for Clean Beaches

In the new year, Heal the Bay will mobilize support for the Clean Waters, Clean Beaches funding measure, which will drive an extensive and multi-faceted water quality clean up and conservation program in Los Angeles County.  The proposed measure would address contaminated drinking water, polluted stormwater runoff as well as toxins and trash in the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, among other challenges.

Plastic Bag Bans

In 2013, we will take a leadership role in advocating for a strong single-use bag ordinance for the City of Los Angeles that is consistent with several other policies adopted by local governments in the area. We will work with partner groups and City Council offices to conduct outreach to the community about the pending ordinance, and ensure that a final policy is adopted that eliminates single-use plastic bag usage in the City at grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores, and greatly reduces paper bag distribution from these locations.

Community Action

Zero Waste Cleanups

In 2013, Heal the Bay plans to run all Nothin’ But Sand monthly beach cleanups as Zero Waste events.  Building upon the success of the 2012 Zero Waste cleanups in October and November, we shall focus this year on not generating excessive waste in the process of performing large-scale public volunteer events. The hope is that the public will witness our commitment to practicing what we advocate, by going reusable and minimizing trash.

Compton Creek

Heal the Bay, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Goldhirsh Foundation, will complete a project to build trash capture devices in the concrete portion of Compton Creek, just upstream of the earthen-bottom, riparian section. Compton Creek is the last major tributary that feeds into the Los Angeles River before it ultimately reaches the ocean in Long Beach. The devices ‑- adjustable metal racks that will be bolted into the channel bottom — will capture trash from dry weather urban runoff and low volume producing storm events and go a long way toward improving water quality.  

A Park in South L.A.

Heal the Bay is partnering with Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists (WAYS) Charter School to complete the construction of the WAYS Reading & Fitness Park on the site of 4,000-square feet of unused City land in 2013. This park, located at the intersection of McKinley Avenue and 87th Street in South Los Angeles, will be on the leading edge of green technology, recycling street water to irrigate its own landscape.

Help us reach our goals this year, donate now and keep the field trips, advocacy campaigns and water testing afloat!

Read more about Heal the Bay and how we work to fulfill our mission.

This trashcan tells quite a tale, discovered more than 2,500 miles away from our Santa Monica base on a Hawaiian beach.

Researchers found the intact plastic trashcan emblazoned with Heal the Bay stickers while they were surveying 2011 Japanese tsunami debris at Ki’i Dunes on Oahu.

“It really highlights the fact that trash travels very far,” Nicholas Mallos, a conservation biologist and ocean debris specialist at the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy told LiveScience.

Mallos and colleagues from the Japan Environmental Action Network, the Oceanic Wildlife Survey and the Japan Ministry of the Environment just completed the beach survey in Hawaii in search of tsunami debris.

Heal the Bay Trash Can in HawaiiThe Hawaii survey turned up masses of typical ocean garbage, including fishing nets and traps, Mallos said, noting the irony of also finding a “Heal the Bay” trashcan.

The problem of typical ocean trash is inextricably linked to the issue of tsunami debris, Mallos continued. Tsunamis aren’t preventable, but regular ocean litter is, he said. Apparently even trashcans can become part of the problem.

You can help reduce the problem of plastic in our oceans by ditching one-time use plastics and going reusable instead, from grocery bags to coffee mugs and water bottles.

UPDATE 1.22.13: A Hawaiian Islands Land Trust employee reported today that another Heal the Bay trashcan has washed up in the Aloha state; this time along the shoreline of Maui’s Waihee Refuge.

Read more about plastic marine debris.

Become part of the plastic pollution solution: Join a cleanup effort, our Speakers Bureau or the many other ways we offer to get involved.

Support for our work at Heal the Bay comes from such varied sources, that sometimes we feel more like curators than water quality advocates, scientists and educators.

For instance, when it came time to plan our sixth annual A Day Without a Bag, we wanted to find an image that captured the vast implications that choosing to use a reusable bag rather than a plastic one has on our environment. Hans Castro-Gallo created this richly detailed, sophisticated image for us to use on our posters and beyond.

We are extremely grateful to Hans for lending his creative talents to our cause.

Creative spirits need fuel, as do HtBers, which is why we thank our local Fresh Brothers for sharing their pizza and other treats to sustain us and our beloved volunteers.

We’d also like to thank the Phantasos Fund for renewing their sponsorship of the Shark and Ray exhibit at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and the Albert & Elaine Borchard Foundation for their commitment to education and the environment.

Members of the Heal the Bay staff also extend our heartfelt thanks to those of you who committed your donations to our work this year. Your dollars are well-spent, funding our efforts to bring low-income children to the beach for the first time, advocate for bans on plastic bags, as well as the essential water monitoring we conduct to keep the public safe.

Visit our Action Alert page to stay up-to-date on our latest advocacy campaigns, or sign up for our newsletters, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Flickr.

 Help fuel our education, advocacy and science programs, donate now.