(photo by Brandon Wise)

CITYWIDE Paper or plastic? Next year you may not have that option as Santa Monica moves closer to a ban on disposable plastic bags.

So, to make sure you’re prepared — and don’t end up carrying your groceries in your arms — Heal the Bay and local businesses will be celebrating “A Day Without a Bag” today by giving away reusable bags.

Santa Monica High School sophomore Zachary Gold, son of Heal the Bay Executive Director Mark Gold, and 50 other Samohi students will be marching throughout the city handing out reusable bags in honor of the day.

“Our students are the next generation and were going to be leading and spearheading to get these non-reusable single-use bags banned so we can help prevent the killing of animals and make our Earth a better place to live,” Zachary Gold said.

The goal of the day is to eradicate single-use plastic and paper bag usage across Los Angeles County. Zachary Gold and other marchers will be handing out around 400 reusable bags donated in part by Heal the Bay.

Heal the Bay has worked with cities across Los Angeles and many of them, along with Santa Monica, officially recognize the third Thursday in December as “A Day Without a Bag.”

“It’s just a great day. Cities are realizing that plastic bags are really a problem and a blight,” said Kirsten James, water quality director for Heal the Bay. “People realize a change needs to happen, and a part of that change is educating the community members as to the problems that plastic bags create.”

On average, 6 billion plastic bags are used each year in the county. According to Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment Santa Monica retail stores distribute approximately 45 to 52 million paper and plastic bags each year.

Heal the Bay estimates that of the 6 billion plastic bags, only 5 percent are recycled.

“When you do the math, you can figure there’s quite a few that end up in the landfill or the streets,” James said.

Heal the Bay is especially concerned about the threat plastic bags pose to marine wildlife in the Pacific Ocean. Plastic bags that are left in the streets often find their way into the ocean via storm drains. With this week’s recent rain storms, there is no doubt that many bags have made their way into Santa Monica Bay.

“It can be very hazardous to marine life,” James said. “They can cause choking hazards to marine animals. They look like a jelly fish and that’s food for a lot of marine animals.”

Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainibility and the Environment is supporting the day of awareness but are not doing any promotions. They are preparing an ordinance that would ban plastic bag use and enforce a 25 cent cost on paper bags. The ordinance is expected to go before the City Council in January.

“The task force on the environment recommended, more than a year ago, that the city ban plastic bags,” said Dean Kubani, manager of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment. “We came back to council in February, with a presentation, with a recommendation that we ban plastic bags. Council agreed with that and they asked us to prepare an ordinance.”

Kubani expects the ban to pass without opposition. The ban would allow a six month grace period and will have fines that correlate to the similar ban of Styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic to-go containers products. The ordinance will not require Santa Monica businesses to sell reusable bags. It will be up to the consumer to purchase those.

Today is a good day to start building up a reusable collection. To find locations were free bags will be distributed, go to www.healthebay.org.

“[Plastic bags] are single-use products. That’s why we are really gong to be pushing reusable bags,” Kubani said. “Reusable bags can be used 100,000 times.”

Local Sunfa Reneau has already made the transition to reusable bags because it is environmentally friendly.

“We should do what we can to go green,” Reneau said.


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