Bags will (likely) be banned … but plenty of plastic for ‘Bag Ladies’

By Debbie Sandler

At the Solana Beach City Council meeting on Oct. 26, the agenda item that received the most attention and subsequent discussion was plastic bags and, more specifically, the possibility of banning them. This ban would include only plastic shopping bags, excluding other plastic film such as newspaper covers, dry cleaning covers and produce bags. Agreement among City Council members is unanimous about “if” there should be a ban and it appears that the discussion is now focused on how and when it will happen. It will likely be a tiered removal of plastic bags from retail stores allowing two things to happen; consumers will have time to get used to the idea that the bags are going away and, at the same time, retailers will have an opportunity to use up their plastic bag inventory.

I have to admit, the idea of writing about overuse of plastic bags AGAIN seemed … redundant. After all, we’ve heard it all before. The appalling effects of plastic bag consumption have been written about countless times. And I’ve bombarded you with green tips about using your own reusable bags. On an intellectual level, we get it: plastic bags are the enemy. But do we really truly, deeply understand the serious implications of their continued use —enough to put our intellectual understanding into action? If we did maybe even the eco-conscious (like me… and you) would step things up. Let’s take a look at some of the statistics that I have not ever seen, along with an updated (finally!) plastic bag use number for Californians.

• Revised numbers indicate that Californians use 14 billion plastic bags each year; this is down from 19 billion (the 2007 figure) but, unfortunately, up from the low of 12 billion in 2009; a whopping 3 percent of these bags actually get recycled despite statewide collection infrastructure under AB 2449

• 60,000: The number of plastic bags used in the U.S. every five seconds (That’s 12,000 bags per second!)

• And right here in California, 400 plastic bags per second are discarded

• The petroleum used to make only 14 plastic bags could drive a car 1 mile; using California’s automobiles’ state average of 24 miles per gallon, it takes approximately one gallon of petroleum to produce 336 plastic bags. Since the average Californian uses about 400 bags per year that is roughly 37 million gallons of petroleum required to sustain this level of plastic bag production in our state alone!

For those of you who are concerned that the “Bag Ladies” will go out of business, worry no more. As mentioned above, lightweight plastic film isn’t going anywhere — there will still be plenty to recycle. While consumers don’t really have any control over the plastic coverings for toilet paper and paper towels, (is there some good reason that the paper towels and toilet paper I buy at Costco come wrapped in plastic INSIDE the outer plastic wrap?) we can regulate our use of items such as dry cleaning covers and produce bags.

I am really excited about the rapidly increasing use of reusable garment bags at Premiere Cleaners (behind Carl’s Jr.). These reusable bags are available for $9 apiece and are used in place of plastic dry cleaning covers. Chong, an employee at Premiere Cleaners, explained to me that they initially ordered only 50 garment bags and went through them so quickly that they had to re-order another 50 right away. These subsequently sold out and an additional order was placed. Chong says that customers usually purchase two-four bags to accommodate all of their dry cleaning/laundry. The system in place at Premiere Cleaners is seamless and works as easily as if you were to pick your clothes up wrapped in the traditional plastic covering. Kudos to owners Steve and Rebecca Cha for their leadership in our community toward plastic film reduction in their industry.

Produce bags are simple to reuse since, for the most part (with the exception of the bags used for broccoli), they are completely clean. After unpacking your produce put the bags right back into your reusable bags (I keep mine together in one bag so they are easy to find) and they can be used over and over. It took me awhile to remember to use the bags I brought with me instead of reaching for new ones each time but, as was the case with the reusable grocery bags, I’ve gotten used to reusing the produce bags as well.

I have always maintained that overall our community members aspire to be responsible consumers. We simply require the information and the means to put this desire into practice. Thank you for your interest in reducing lightweight plastic film.

Please contact me at: with any questions or comments you may have.