Student members from California Student Public Interest Research Group chapters at various University of California campuses were stationed along the boardwalk in Pacific Beach on Friday (March 25) with their mascot Tizzy, a 30-foot inflatable sea turtle in tow. The group is traveling the state while the students are on spring break to gin up support for a November ballot measure that would ban single-use plastic shopping bags statewide.
"We needed something big to draw attention from students on campus and at other events around the state," one of the student activists said of Tizzy. "We bought him online, and he's been traveling with us for quite a while — he's even been to the capitol steps in Sacramento."
One-hundred and forty-seven cities and counties throughout the state already have bag ban laws on the books, including Encinitas and Solana Beach. In 2014, the state legislature passed a measure to extend the ban to all of California, but the bill has been contested by plastic-industry lobbyists and will go before voters this November for ratification.
"Fully-intact plastic bags make up the fourth or fifth most commonly found item," said Roger Kube of the Surfrider Foundation, which, along with Coastkeeper San Diego, organizes dozens of beach cleanups each year. “In fact, 80 percent of the marine debris we find on our beaches is plastic pollution. While cleanups help raise awareness and educate the public about the cost of pollution issues, cleanups alone won't fix this problem, which has to be addressed at its source."
According to Kube, recent polling suggests 59 percent of Californians favor adopting a total ban, with 34 percent opposed. Support is even higher in communities that already have bag bans in place. He also cited a UC Davis study that found as much as a fourth of all fish sold at market contains some decomposed plastic consumed at sea.
"It's our generation and generations after us that will be the most affected by environmental devastation, including ocean pollution," said UC San Diego student Antonio Camaraza, adding that scientists estimate that there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans by 2050 unless measures are taken to curb pollution. "We shouldn't let something that we use for a few minutes pollute our environment for decades."
Camaraza said he intends to "register tens of thousands of voters, make hundreds of classroom announcements, and identify hundreds of local businesses that support our campaign" as part of his activism in the coming months.
Kube rattled off a host of findings that show local governments have experienced lower pollution and lower expenditures cleaning streets, storm drains, and waterways since enacting bans.
"By banning them, we show fiscal prudence as well as concern for the oceans and beaches that are pillars of our state economy," Kube said. He told residents to brace for an advertising onslaught from the anti-ban campaign, almost entirely funded by plastic-bag manufacturerers both within and outside California.
"As we near the November elections, the plastic industry will continue to shop around propaganda and false reports about the importance of plastic bags," said Kube. "They'll continue to fabricate health concerns about reusable bags — claims that were deemed completely false by public health officials. Don't believe the propaganda and hype."