From: Save The Bay
Published September 15, 2009 09:47 AM

Save The Bay Urges Bay Area Cities to Pass Legislation to End the Distribution of "Free" Plastic Bags to Protect the Bay and Wildlife

OAKLAND, CA - September 15, 2009 - Save The Bay's 4th annual list of Bay Trash Hot Spots underscores the pervasive and growing problem of plastic trash in our waterways. The 2009 Hot Spots are ten San Francisco Bay shorelines and creeks where volunteers removed the most plastic bags on Coastal Cleanup Day in 2008. On this day alone, volunteers picked up nearly 15,000 plastic bags from these locations - a shocking number given that only a small portion of the Bay shoreline and its tributaries were cleaned up. Save The Bay estimates that more than one million plastic bags wind up in San Francisco Bay each year where they smother wetlands, degrade water quality and harm animals.  (A map showcasing the ten hot spots can be found at:

Save The Bay is asking the mayors of the Bay Trash Hot Spots cities (listed below) to prioritize legislation that ends the distribution of free single-use bags, both plastic and paper, to reduce Bay pollution and protect wildlife - a move that will require residents to switch to reusable bags. Save The Bay is also calling on Bay Area residents to volunteer on the 25th annual Coastal Cleanup Day on September 19, 2009.

"Plastic bags are among the most harmful, ubiquitous and preventable types of Bay pollution," says Save The Bay Executive Director David Lewis. "It is time for cities and residents to take a stand against plastic bag pollution to protect the Bay, wildlife and our quality of life."

The data used to determine this year's hot spots were gathered and reported to the Ocean Conservancy by volunteers following last year's Coastal Cleanup Day. These Bay Trash Hot Spots are blighted by large amounts of plastic trash and are representative of problem areas all around San Francisco Bay. (Not every section of the Bay watershed had Coastal Cleanup Day events and some sites did not report trash data).

Bay Area Cities Must Stand Up to Plastics Industry
Toxic plastic pollution is a growing problem in California and throughout the world. Plastic bags were the second most frequent item of litter picked up by volunteers during the Ocean Conservancy's 2008 International Coastal Cleanup Day with 1.37 million plastic bags removed from coastal areas worldwide. And the North Pacific Ocean hosts the floating "Great Pacific Garbage Patch", twice the size of Texas, where a recent study found that plastic particles are more abundant than plankton (Algalita Marine Research Foundation).

In an effort to address this problem, in 2007 San Francisco became the first city in the country to take action against plastic bags by banning them at large markets and drug stores. Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who spearheaded this legislation says, "The plastic bag ban in San Francisco has been a good start to what has become a nationwide movement, but there is clearly room for improvement. San Francisco will take the next step with legislation I will sponsor to reduce demand for give-away bags altogether."

Following San Francisco's 2007 ban, the multi-billion dollar plastics industry has dispatched lobbyists to California and other states to block efforts to reduce bag use. Like the tobacco industry, which launched campaigns to stop smoking bans, the plastic bag industry has sued or is threatening to sue Oakland, San Diego, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and numerous other cities. The lawsuits aim to force cash-strapped cities to prepare expensive studies analyzing the impacts of bag bans and fees, or abandon their efforts.

Even so, this year Washington, D.C. passed a single-use bag fee, even with the bag industry strongly lobbying against it. And just this past spring, Palo Alto, CA passed a ban restricting large grocers from distributing single-use plastic bags (effective September 18, 2009) after settling a lawsuit threat from the plastics industry. Through its Clean Bay Project, Save The Bay is working with San Jose and other cities to pass landmark legislation to prohibit the use of single-use plastic and paper bags.

"We've seen the adverse effects of disposable plastic and paper bags on human health, the environment and solid waste management, all of which require significant public funding to mitigate," says San Jose City Councilmember Sam Liccardo.  "It is imperative that we pass legislation to stop the distribution of plastic and paper bags."

The Plastic Bag Problem in our Bay and Ocean
The United Nations Environment Program says bags are the number one form of litter in the globe's oceans and should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. In the Bay Area in 2008, Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers removed 184 tons of waste from the Bay, including over 26,000 plastic bags. A recent Water Board study found an average of three pieces of trash along every foot of streams leading to the Bay, threatening the more than 500 species of wildlife that depend on San Francisco Bay, including 23 endangered species, such as the California clapper rail. Wildlife can become entangled in trash or ingest it, often to the point that their stomachs are completely blocked and they starve. What's more, 80 percent of marine debris is plastic (California Coastal Commission), which does not biodegrade and leaches toxic chemicals into the water.

Save The Bay's 2009 Bay Trash Hot Spots: Spotlight on Plastic Bags
(Visit Save The Bay's interactive website: to see a map of this year's Bay Trash Hot Spots.)

  • Albany-Berkeley-Emeryville shoreline (Alameda County): The large urban population and the proximity of heavily-used Interstate 80 contribute to the huge quantity of trash along this 14-mile stretch of Bay shoreline.
Bags removed on Coastal Cleanup Day 2008 (CCD 08): 7,497

  • Antioch Shoreline (Contra Costa County): A park, marina, businesses, a nearby Amtrak Station, and plenty of trash are found along this stretch of the Delta leading into the Bay.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 478

  • Belden's Landing (Solano County): A common fishing and recreation area in Suisun City, a close look at this area nestled in the San Pablo Bay wetlands reveals hundreds of plastic bags hidden in the reeds.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 591

  • Burlingame Bayfront to Mills Creek, Millbrae (San Mateo County): Plastic bags wash up onto the shoreline and blow into the Bay from nearby streets at this shoreline park within view of San Francisco Airport.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 784

  • Candlestick Park (San Francisco): Despite daily cleanups by local groups, rampant illegal dumping and a nearby freeway contribute to the massive trash problem at this shoreline park in San Francisco.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 750

  • Coyote Creek (Santa Clara County): Trash from dumping, littering, and encampments gets caught on low-hanging branches along this creek that runs through San Jose and Milpitas, forming huge rafts of trash.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 1,100

  • Mare Island Strait (Solano County): Past the intersection of Lemon and Derr Streets in Vallejo, railroad tracks and industry are adjacent to Mare Island Strait.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 400

  • Richmond shoreline from Shimada Friendship Park to Point Isabel (Contra Costa County): Urban creeks transport trash downstream to wetland marshes along the Richmond shoreline that are frequented by shorebirds. Bags removed on CCD 08: 2,252
  • Ryder Park (San Mateo County): Ryder Park, situated between the Bay and a part of San Mateo that used to be thriving wetlands, is popular for its trails and shoreline playground.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 384

  • Warm Water Cove (San Francisco): Plastic bags and other trash wash off city streets into this Bayside cove at the end of 24th Street near the Potrero Power Plant. The site is also piled with illegally dumped toxic tires.
Bags removed on CCD 08: 542
(Not every section of the Bay watershed had Coastal Cleanup Day events and some sites did not report trash data.)

About Save The Bay
Save The Bay is the largest regional organization working to protect, restore and celebrate San Francisco Bay. As its leading champion since 1961, Save The Bay protects the Bay from pollution and inappropriate shoreline development, making it cleaner and healthier for people and wildlife. We restore habitat and secure strong policies to re-establish 100,000 acres of wetlands that are essential for a healthy Bay. We engage more than 25,000 supporters, advocates and volunteers to protect the Bay, and inspire the next generation of environmental leaders by educating thousands of students annually.



Plastic Trash Solutions for the Residents
The good news is that plastic bag pollution is preventable. We can:

    • Reduce our impact by making the switch to reusable bags and reusing plastic bags around the house.
    • Advocate for policies and regulations that significantly reduce plastic bags flowing to the Bay. Take Save The Bay's online action asking your mayor to prioritize strong legislation to end free distribution of single-use bags.
    • Volunteer to clean up and restore the Bay shoreline. Save The Bay hosts monthly cleanup and restoration events at several sites around San Francisco Bay. This Saturday, September 19, on Coastal Cleanup Day, Save The Bay is leading cleanup events at three sites:
  • Candlestick Point (San Francisco)
  • Alameda Creek at Eden Landing Ecological Reserve (Hayward/Union City)
  • Coyote Creek (Milpitas)
Sign up on our website:
Other Coastal Cleanup Day events:

Recycling Flimsy Bags Doesn't Work
California has pushed a statewide effort to recycle plastic bags for fifteen years. Despite this, the California Integrated Waste Management Board estimates that less than five percent of all single use plastic bags in the state are actually recycled, and there is little market for "down-cycled" plastic film. Recycling firms report extensive costs from trying to recycle this small portion of plastic bags because they jam processing machines and cause work stoppages. In San Jose, less than four percent of plastic bags are recycled and work stoppages from jammed bags cost the City approximately $1 million per year.

Plastic Bags are Bad for the Environment
It is no secret that plastic bags are a major component of urban litter. Even when placed in trash bins, these lightweight bags are picked up by wind and blown into the gutters - where they flow into bays and the ocean. On just one day in 2008, over 26,000 bags were removed from San Francisco Bay - this amount represents only a small fraction of the total plastic trash flowing into the Bay and ocean. Bay Area residents use 3.8 billion plastic bags per year and discard over one hundred plastic bags per second. Save The Bay estimates that about one million of these bags wind up in the Bay each year where they pollute our waters, smother wetlands and entangle and kill animals.

Trash in the Bay has global ramifications. Plastic bags were the second largest item picked up during the Ocean Conservancy's 2008 International Coastal Cleanup Day, and Bay trash contributes to the 334,271 pieces of plastic per square mile measured in the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." The critically endangered leatherback sea turtle, which migrates by the mouth of San Francisco Bay on a 5,000 mile journey from the South Pacific, can mistake plastic bags for the jellyfish that constitute its diet.

Plastic Bag Litter Costs Cities Millions
California taxpayers spend approximately $25 million every year to collect and landfill plastic bags. Local agencies spend millions more cleaning up plastic bag litter from streets, storm drains, and waterways. Volunteers spend countless hours plucking dirty bags from neighborhood creeks. Regional landfills pay staff to walk the trash mound and capture plastic bags that blow away.

Legislation to End the Distribution of Plastic Bags Successful
Bans and fees are proven ways to create a mass switch to reusable bags, which will help clean up our communities, our Bay and save cities money. And fee revenue can be used to recoup administration costs for retailers, subsidize bags for low-income residents and clean up litter hot spots.

In Ireland, a 33 cent fee on plastic bags reduced their use by 90 percent and reduced plastic bag litter by 93 percent in one year. Further, IKEA stores in Britain say charging customers for bags resulted in a 95 percent decrease in plastic bag use.  And while we have yet to see the effects of the legislation, last month Mexico City became the most recent major international city to ban the distribution of plastic bags at all retail stores, production facilities and service centers. With roughly 19 million residents in its metropolitan area, this move will surely have a positive impact on the environment.

Contact Info: Amy Alton Ricard
510-452-9261 x122

Jessica Castelli
510-452-9261 x104

Website : Save The Bay

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