Report | Environment California Research & Policy Center

Leading the Way Toward a Cleaner Ocean

Out in the Pacific Ocean, plastic debris churns in a soup called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – an area twice the size of Texas where plastic bits outweigh plankton. Plastic pollution persists for hundreds of years, and can kill turtles, seabirds and other marine animals.
Throw-away plastic bags are a significant part of the problem. To reduce ocean pollution and protect the environment, more than 80 national and local governments across the planet have taken official action to ban throw-away plastic bags or to establish fees or taxes on such bags.
State, county, and city governments in California should follow their lead and ban the use of plastic grocery bags.
• Californians use approximately 16 billion plastic bags per year – more than 400 annually per person.
• Less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled. Instead, they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, clogging streams, fouling beaches, or floating out to sea.
• Plastic trash threatens ocean ecosystems. Sea turtles and other marine animals often mistake plastic bags
for jellyfish and eat them, causing injury or death. In parts of the Pacific Ocean, including the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, plastic outweighs plankton by up to six times.
• The city of San Francisco estimated that the taxpayer cost to subsidize the recycling, collection, and disposal of plastic and paper bags amounts to as much as 17 cents per bag. Applied to California as a whole, that adds up to more than $1 billion per year.
More than 80 national and local governments around the world have taken action to protect the ocean by reducing the use of plastic bags.
• At least 20 nations and 47 local governments have passed bans on distributing specific kinds of throw- away plastic bags, including the nations of Italy, Kenya, Mongolia, Macedonia, and Bangladesh; the states of Maharashtra, India and Buenos Aires, Argentina; and the cities of Karachi, Pakistan and Telluride, Colorado.
• Approximately 26 nations and local communities have established fee programs to reduce plastic bag use and/or increase the use of reusable alternatives, including Botswana, China, Hong Kong, Wales, Ireland, Israel, Canada’s Northwest Terri- tories, Toronto, Mexico City, and Washington, D.C. 
Bans and meaningful fee programs effectively reduce plastic bag pollution.
• Bans and fee programs quickly reduce plastic bag distribution. Ireland, which in 2002 established a fee roughly equivalent to 28 U.S. cents per bag, saw plastic bag use drop by 90 percent within the first year. After Washington, D.C., implemented a much smaller 5 cent tax on plastic bags, the number of
bags distributed by food retailers
fell from 22.5 million per month to 3.3 million per month. And the year after banning plastic bags at pharmacies and supermarkets in 2007, San Francisco businesses distributed 127 million fewer plastic bags, and cut overall bag waste reaching the city landfill by up to 10 percent.
Eleven city and county governments in California have taken successful action to reduce plastic bag pollution.
• Eleven California cities and counties have bans on plastic bags in effect, including Long Beach, Santa Monica, San Jose, San Francisco, and unincorporated Marin and unincorporated Los Angeles counties. Five of these communities, including Marin County and San Jose, have also authorized mandatory charges on paper bags to encourage citizens to use reusable bags.
• Two additional communities, Oakland and Manhattan Beach, passed bans that were later struck down after legal challenges by plastic bag manufacturers.
Much more progress can be made to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean and transform our throw-away culture.
• Education and recycling cannot
keep pace with the generation of plastic bag pollution. Despite a
2006 law requiring retailers to place bag recycling bins in front of their stores, less than 5 percent of bags are recycled.
• To make a real impact, all California cities and counties should restrict the use of plastic bags, and advocate for similar action at the state level.

Report | Environment California Research & Policy Center

Gobbling Less Gas for Thanksgiving

How Clean Cars Can Save Americans Money and Cut Oil Use -- With more than 39 million people taking to the road on trips of at least 50 miles to visit family and friends, Americans are expected to spend $418 million at the gas pump this Thanksgiving holiday.

Report | Environment California Research and Policy Center

Green Chemistry at Work

Leading California businesses are showing that consumer products don’t have to contain toxic chemicals, threaten public health, or produce large amounts of waste in order to work. These businesses are making California healthier and wealthier by designing products to be safe from the start, following the principles of green chemistry.

This report highlights 12 Golden State businesses or institutions that are identifying unnecessary hazards in their facilities, in their manufacturing processes and in the products they sell – and acting to eliminate them. In the process, these pioneers are demonstrating how a strong state-wide green chemistry policy can give birth to a new way of doing business – benefiting the people of California and setting an example for the nation as a whole.

Green chemistry is a design and business philosophy that seeks to make products safe from the start and prevent pollution at its source.

Report | Environment California Research & Policy Center

Building Better: How High-Efficiency Buildings Will Save Money and Reduce Global Warming

Over 40 percent of our energy – and 10 percent of all the energy used in the world – goes toward powering America’s buildings, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Today’s high-efficiency homes and buildings prove that we have the technology and skills to drastically improve the efficiency of our buildings while simultaneously improving their comfort and affordability. If we apply those lessons to all buildings, we can reduce overall building energy consumption 35 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2050.

Report | Environment California Research & Policy Center

The Clean Energy Future Starts Here

The American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act, passed by the House this June and currently under consideration by the U.S. Senate, maps out a new energy future for the nation. Passing the ACES Act – even with the compromises made to secure passage in the House – would be a significant step toward a clean energy future for the United States and would represent a ground-breaking political achievement.

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