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Heal the Bay Blog

Category: California Bag Ban

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:

Science

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.

Education

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.

Advocacy

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.



Veteran TV broadcaster Huell Howser passed away Sunday night. Here Communications Director Matthew King remembers his work with Heal the Bay.

If anyone could make plastic bags come alive, it’d be Huell Howser.   

As Heal the Bay’s newly hired Communications Director six years ago, I’d been grappling with how to engage the public about the environmental costs associated with society’s addiction to single-use plastic bags. I’d sent out press releases, assembled fact sheets and written earnest letters to the editors about Los Angeles County’s proposed bag ban. But something was missing. We needed some human interest.

So I sent a long email to Huell suggesting that California’s Gold spend a day on the beach taking an up-close look at what plastics were doing to our shorelines. To my surprise, he responded positively and quickly to my pitch. I’ve placed several Op Eds in the L.A Times and successfully arranged dozens of segments on local TV news programs since then, but Huell calling me back that afternoon and coordinating the filming schedule marked one of my greatest professional moments here.

Media relations professionals often lose perspective about the issues they pitch. Self-doubt naturally creeps in when success hinges on the mercurial interests of overworked journalists. Is this topic compelling to most people? Does anyone really care about this?

Huell served as bit of a gold standard. He had made a career of mining the profound in the mundane. So if he found plastic bags interesting, then by default they were interesting.

On the drive down the 405 freeway to the Manhattan Beach Pier, my colleague Kirsten James and I did our best Huell impersonations. I made a bet with Kirsten that I could get Huell to drawl the amount of plastic bags we use each year in L.A. County in dragged-out astonishment. “Noooooo, Kirsten! NINE BILL-YUN plastic bags??!!”  I won my bet.

Huell became a bit of a caricature to some jaded members of L.A.’s media community, with his beefy biceps and cornpone demeanor. But that sunny afternoon in the South Bay proved to me that his TV personality wasn’t some calculated act. Off camera, he bubbled with the same Southern charm and decency as shown on screen. It could’ve been model trains or an old mill, but on this day plastic bags inspired that sense of wonder and incredulity that marked his best work.

Huell never proselytized about environmental protection, letting the sheer beauty of California’s special places speak for itself. Before you can expect people to act, you have to inspire. And inspire he did. For that, environmental organizations up and down the state owe Huell a debt of gratitude.

In subsequent years, I’d occasionally suggest other ideas to Huell: looking for great white sharks in Santa Monica Bay or exploring Compton Creek. He didn’t take the bait, but he always made a point of calling me back personally to tell me why. Most journalists don’t respond to pitches, no matter how well-crafted and personalized, either by phone or email. You get used to the rejection, but it still grates. It’s a simple thing, but Huell’s calls showed class and consideration. He didn’t have to telephone, but he did.

My last phone call from Huell came a few months ago, declining an invitation to attend a Heal the Bay event in Santa Monica celebrating African-American surf culture in Southern California. He wanted to attend, he said, but would be traveling. As we chatted on a fading Friday afternoon, he seemed a bit tired. I said goodbye and wished him well.

Huell will be remembered as the champion of the obscure. But I think of him celebrating the essential: to be kind, to be curious, to be connected. California will miss him.



Green Santa and his eco-elves made a stop in historic Los Angeles distributing more than 1,000 reusable bags at Olvera Street and $1000 in Vons/Pavilions gift cards to families, tourists and holiday shoppers as part of Heal the Bay’s 6th annual A Day Without a Bag.

Across Los Angeles County on December 20, Heal the Bay staff and volunteers gave away 15,000 bags to promote going reusable for the holidays and in preparation for the L.A. City bag ban ordinance that’s poised to move forward in spring 2013.

To date, Heal the Bay has given away 100,000 reusable bags as part of an ongoing outreach effort to get Angelenos to forgo their plastic bags in favor of reusable ones.

Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s Water Quality Director, noted that Olvera Street, as the birthplace of Los Angeles, was the perfect spot to talk about making history with a bag ban. “L.A. is poised to be the largest city in the U.S. to ban plastic bags. When that happens, our city will be a model for the rest of the nation,” she told the dozens of people who had lined up to recieve reusable bags.

Every year California municipalities spend nearly $25 million just to collect and properly dispose of plastic bag waste. Only 5% of plastic grocery bags are recycled annually in L.A. Plastic bags clog our waterways and are harmful to human health and marine life.

A Day Without A Bag 2012 Golden Ticket Winner at Olvera StreetAt Olvera Street, each reusable bag recipient had a chance of finding a “golden ticket” inside good for a $25 Vons/Pavilions gift card. Vons/Pavilions also sponsored giftcard giveways at its Hollywood stores.

“Vons is happy to partner with Heal the Bay on A Day Without a Bag,” said Jenna Watkinson, Manager, Public Affairs and Government Relations at Von’s. “We feel that part of being the neighborhood grocery store is being a good neighbor. Our commitment to the environment plays a huge part in being that good neighbor.”

Albertsons and Ralphs markets also partnered with us to promote A Day Without a Bag, as did the City and County of Los Angeles and EarthWise Bag Company Inc. Commissioner Capri Maddox, vice president of the Los Angeles City Board of Public Works, and Jim Cragg from Green Vets LA (which provides local military veterans with jobs making reusable bags), joined Heal the Bay at Olvera Street to share the good news about reusable bags reducing litter and creating green jobs in Los Angeles.

This year Heal the Bay also focused on youth to advocate for change in their own communities, training them on how to build support for the ban all over the city. On December 1 we organized the Day Without a Bag Youth Summit, bringing together 35 students and teachers from eight different schools, including Apex Academy.

A group of students from Apex helped distribute Vons/Pavilions gift cards in Hollywood and garnered support for reusables at Amoeba Music and the East Hollywood Farmers market.

We also launched our Rockin’ Reusables contest this year, encouraging people to share images of everday use of reusable items. Melissa from Huntington Beach won our grand prize for sharing her “Off to the grocery store!” photo on Instagram. Congratulations, Melissa!

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.



At Heal the Bay, we are so grateful to the ocean that every December, we promote sacking plastic bags and going reusable for the holidays…and all year round. Plastic bags clog our waterways, poisoning marine animals and posing health risks for humans.

TBoy poses with his reusable bag next to deflated Bag Monsterhis year, we’d like to thank Green Santa for distributing reusable bags at Olvera Street in historic Los Angeles at our sixth annual A Day Without a Bag. Some of the bags contained “golden tickets” good for $25 Vons/Pavilions gift cards. In addition, at their Hollywood stores, Vons/Pavilions rewarded customers using reusable bags with $25 gift cards. Thank you, Vons/Pavilions!

Thank you to our additional partners: Albertsons, Ralphs and Earthwise. We’d also like to thank our reusable bag “eco-elves,” who distributed bags throughout Los Angeles from the following local high schools:

  • Compton High School
  • APEX Academy @ Bernstein High School
  • Westchester Enriched Science Magnet
  • Sun Valley High School
  • King Drew Magnet High School

Coalition for a Green Glendale also handed out reusable bags at Glendale retailers.

The ocean is also important to the folks at Alchemie Spa, who hosted a “Beauty for the Bay” event this week, donating proceeds to Heal the Bay.

We are also grateful to have new neighbors, the independent pizzeria Fresh Bros. Not only is their food yummy, but they also donated a portion of their proceeds from last week to Heal the Bay.

And thank YOU for a wonderful 2012. Without you, we can’t push forward with our mission to keep the Santa Monica Bay healthy and safe.  Whether you donate your time or your treasure (or both!) we appreciate all you do. Happy New Year!

Seeking a fun way to celebrate New Year’s Eve? Bring in the New Year 2013 in Santa Monica at the Basement Tavern at the Victorian! Great food, drinks and entertainment on all three floors: Ground Zero in the Basement, the Mixx in the Attic, and DJ Benjamin Walker on the Main Floor. Tickets are $45. Proceeds will benefit Heal the Bay and the National Heritage Museum.



Friends don’t let friends use plastic bags. And this holiday season, Heal the Bay will reward your friends who go plastic-free.

  • As part of A Day Without a Bag on December 20, take a picture of yourself, your friends, or a stranger (with their permission, of course) using their reusable bags to enter our contest! Catch your friends in the act and post it to InstagramTwitter, or Facebook with the hashtag #RockinReusables and tag @HealtheBay to enter. Winners will receive a limited edition Heal the Bay A Day Without a Bag T-shirt, $100 Vons gift card, as well as other great prizes. Contest ends at 5 p.m. on December 20, and winners will be announced on December 21.
  • Come meet Green Santa at Olvera Street noon-1 p.m. on December 20 and maybe you’ll be among the lucky recipients of reusable bags containing “golden tickets” redeemable for $25 Vons/Pavilions gift cards. Can’t make it to Olvera Street? You can still be a winner. We’re hosting dozens of other sites, from Chinatown to Venice, to give away and promote reusable bags. Check this map of all giveaway sites.
  • Join us for an evening of spa treatments at Alchemie Spa in Santa Monica. Fifteen minute mini-treatments are $35 in advance or $40 at the door with a reservation by phone (310-310-8880). Choose from a mini organic manicure, brow and lip wax, hand and foot scrub, chair massage, or mini-sage. Purchase tickets online: select an entrance-only ticket ($10) or a ticket with mini-treatment ($35). Alchemie Spa is generously donating 100% of the entrance charge, raffle tickets and auction plus 15% of the mini treatments.

Visit Heal the Bay’s calendar to discover more ways to get involved.