Timmy McHugh, a clerk at the Co-opportunity market on Broadway, puts groceries into reusable bags on Wednesday. A ban on single-use plastic bags takes effect today. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITYWIDE — Several months ago, Maxi Vilimbrozyna, a Santa Monica High School alum and current freshman at UCLA, agreed to be a poster child for the single-use plastic bag ban in Santa Monica.

He didn’t know where that picture would end up.

“I walked out of my house, and I saw a garbage truck and it had me on it,” Vilimbrozyna said.

Vilimbrozyna and 15 other community members make up the public face of the “Bring Your Bag” campaign, putting ownership of the Santa Monica’s newly-enforced plastic bag ban squarely in the hands of those who advocated for it.

Emily Gould, a former intern for the Office of Sustainability and the Environment — the city department behind the bag ban — and daughter of City Manager Rod Gould, is prominently featured on one.

Gould edited literature about the ban, researched how other communities had put plastic bag bans together and did outreach to businesses and other groups to educate them on what the ban meant.

When she found out her picture had been chosen, she was thrilled to be represented on something she had worked so hard for, Gould said.

“I think a bag ban can do wonders, because we put so many plastic bags into the ocean and the environment. Plastic bags are bad, and we certainly don’t need them,” she said. “It’s really a step in the right direction for us.”

The office considered using celebrities for the campaign, but decided to run with local notables, said Josephine Miller, employee of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment in charge of the bag ban.

“I had this whole vision,” Miller said. “It has to be my bag. People have to have ownership.”

Miller worked with community groups throughout Santa Monica to select prime candidates for the posters, people who would be recognized in the communities where the posters hang.

Lincoln Middle School science teacher Roe Johnston has been asked to autograph the posters of him pointing to a shirt bearing the likeness of Abraham Lincoln in the style of Shepard Fairey’s “Hope” poster, that was an iconic part of President Barack Obama’s campaign.

Vilimbrozyna’s mother has been asked for high fives from total strangers who recognize her son, now a water polo player at UCLA, either from the garbage truck or one of the posters displayed at the Santa Monica Place mall.

Even the placement of the posters is a community effort.

Downtown Santa Monica Inc., the private corporation that helps run the Third Street Promenade and Downtown business district in partnership with City Hall, orchestrated the arrival of the posters at the mall.

“We worked really closely with the Office of Sustainability and the Environment on all their programming, but they needed a place to raise awareness of the Bring Your Bag program,” said Debbie Lee, vice president of Downtown Santa Monica Inc.

The Macerich Co., which owns the Santa Monica Place mall, agreed to put up public service announcements endorsed by City Hall when space was available.

The Bring Your Bag program was the first instance of that program at work, Lee said.

Reminding people to bring their bags is the first step, but Miller and the office hope to push the local influence one step further by reinvigorating a kind of bag-communism.

In July, Miller launched the Share a Bag program, which encouraged people with extra reusable bags to drop them off at various locations in the city to give a hand to their fellow residents and visitors.

The original stock of “seed” bags for the program were made by veterans out of old military materials. Some locations are having difficulty getting others to replace bags that have been taken, Lee said.

“We can’t seem to keep enough bags in there,” she said, referring to a drop off location in Parking Structure 4. “People really see that as a benefit to be able to pick up a bag when they come here for many reasons.”

Some are tourists, unaware of the ban and its implications. Others are simply supportive of the ban.

Either way, the Share a Bag program has thus far been a victim of its own good intention, but Miller, for one, has not given up.

“We’re hoping that people will bring bags to share with one another,” she said. “We’ve had success with some places, but not others.”


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