CALPIRG seeks to garner 60,000 signatures to ban plastic bags

Local politicians and environmental advocates joined the UC Berkeley chapter of CALPIRG on Upper Sproul Plaza Wednesday to speak about the importance of banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags in California.

State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington joined CALPIRG members at a sparsely attended press conference as part of the week-long “Protect Our Oceans — Ban the Bag!” campaign.

CALPIRG worked to convince Alameda County to pass an ordinance banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags Jan. 25 and is now attempting to get 60,000 signatures by the end of the semester from UC, CSU and community colleges to present to legislators for a statewide ban, according to CALPIRG intern Kat Lockwood.

CALPIRG also attempted to ban plastic bags statewide in 2009, but lost by two votes in the state Assembly.

“One of our strategies is to increase co-sponsors for the legislation by lobbying our legislators and asking them to co-author the bill, lining up support ahead of time,” Lockwood said. “Since we lost last time by only two votes, we want to make sure we can as many elected officials in support as possible.”

Twelve billion plastic bags are used in California every year for the sake of convenience, CALPIRG Oceans Campaign Coordinator Taylor Ann Whittemore said at the press conference. An object that is only used for a few minutes should not continue to pollute the ocean for hundreds of years, Whittemore said.

Skinner said the impact of aquatic animals imbibing plastic poses a risk because Californians eat more than 17 pounds of seafood per person per year, the most in the country.

“We can’t recycle our way out of this,” said Ecology Center Executive Director Martin Bourque. “Neither paper or plastic has the right idea, we need ‘bring your own bag’ to become standard so our children’s children will not have to clean up this pollution.”

Since the county ban on plastic bags will not take effect until 2013, Bourque said students should make an effort in the meantime to reduce litter and plastic use on campuses.

“An ocean full of plastic eventually comes back to us,” he added. “Plastic is highly absorbent of other chemicals, and if it’s out there being digested by marine life, the ocean’s most toxic pollutants are passed up the food chain and end up on our dinner plates.”