Californians are quite familiar with the Urban Tumbleweed, the ubiquitous blowing plastic bag that litters our parks, roadways, and rivers before it makes its way to the beaches and into the Pacific where it becomes the Mock Jellyfish.
However, San Franciscans witnessed the first great gathering of plastic bags in the form of at least 60 Bag Monsters on Aug. 12, and it was truly a unique sight. The Bag Monster is the brainchild of Andy Keller, anti-single use plastic activist and maker of the reusable Chico Bags. Each plastic Bag Monster costume is made of 500 plastic grocery bags to symbolize the 500-700 single-use plastic bags used by the average American consumer in one year. The Bag Monsters marched from Ghiradelli Square, whose management supported the march as part of its sustainability program, to the Marina where the sight of the Bag Monsters on the sand was especially poignant.
Collectively, Californians use 19 billion single-use plastic bags annually. Used but briefly, these bags have long-term consequences for California. Not only are they made from fossil fuels that are not renewable, but these bags cost Californians at least $25 million in taxpayer funding to clean up when they litter our state and clog our storm drains. That cost does not include the external costs of the world's largest volunteer supported beach clean-up efforts and costs to businesses that deal with the pollution on a daily basis. Plastic bag pollution is so prevalent that in a catch basin cleanup of along the Los Angeles River, plastic film and bags were 43% of all trash collected! When these bags are not collected before they make it to the Pacific, they become a plague to marine life. Plastic bags, which closely resemble jellyfish to unsuspecting sealife, have been documented in the remains of birds, ocean mammals, fish, and turtles.
China, Mexico City and at least 40 countries and municipalities around the world have banned plastic bags (representing at least 25% of the world's population). In 2008, the Ocean Protection Council called upon the California Legislature to ban or place consumer fees on commonly littered items, including plastic single-use bags. The United Nations Environmental Programme Secretariat has also called for a worldwide ban of plastic bags. The California Senate is currently considering a single-use plastic bag ban.
For more information and to send a letter supporting the California Single-Use Bag Reduction Act (AB 1998), go here.