I am discouraged by the Santa Barbara City Council’s response to the single-use bag proposal on Tuesday’s agenda. I was ambivalent about whether to do a survey or even whether to put the bag-tax initiative on the ballot. What I really wanted was a decision of some sort.
Instead, the matter was tabled until July — and even that “decision” took three motions! Any type of action would have been preferable to that.
There is no denying that single-use bags are detrimental to the environment. I’m not sure why this even has to be explained to members of the council. We in California use 19 billion plastic bags per year. Do we need to be using 19 billion of anything?
Many countries never adopted the single-use bag habit and scratch their heads at those of us in such a disposable-oriented society. Countries, cities and corporations have added fees to their bags and have seen a 90 percent reduction in use almost immediately. This is because people perceive bags to be “free,” but is anything really “free”? In California alone, more than $25 million is spent annually on beach cleanups. Plastic accounts for 74 percent of beach litter. The average cost of a plastic bag to the consumer is 17 cents, so if you pay taxes, you’re already paying for single-use bags.
A couple of points made in Tuesday’s council meeting included the “secondary” uses of single-use bags and the sentiment that people “don’t want to be told what to do.” On the first point, do we really have 19 billion trash cans to line? When people tell me they need the plastic bags for other uses, I suggest that they bring their own bags to the store 75 percent of the time and take plastic bags the other 25 percent.
The second point is a bit more complicated. What happened to pulling together for a common cause? This country has been at its best when citizens united for a common goal. Think back to the “war effort” during World War II and how Americans were asked to sacrifice in many ways and did so happily. We’ve now been in two wars for seven years, and our planet has never been in worse shape, and yet people “don’t want to be told what to do.”
Whatever your beliefs, I hope you find it in your heart to care about the future of our planet. Our oceans are filling up with plastic faster than we can comprehend, and we each have the power to do something about it. Bringing our own bags to the store is but a first step in a journey I hope we take take in unity before it’s too late. I can’t think of a nobler cause than banding together for the “planet effort.”
Kathi Brennan King, director
Choose to Reuse program