Stormwater Management Agencies: Plastic Bags Clog Drains, Pollute Water

The association of Bay Area agencies is urging all to support local bans on single-use plastic bags.

Though the counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara have both banned the use of plastic bags in unincorporated areas, there are still some cities in the South Bay and Peninsula that have not done so at the city level.

This week, the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association (BASMAA) issued a statement urging city governments that have not already done so to approve such bans.

BASMAA representatives say, plastic bags lead to water pollution, increased litter, and stormwater drain issues.

"In a baseline survey of Bay Area litter conducted by BASMAA in 2012, single-use plastic grocery bags accounted for 8 percent of litter in the region," the statement indicated.

Plastic bags also present unique cleanup problems, the statement suggested.

"With exposure to sunlight and water, they break into smaller toxic pieces that entwine in vegetation, contaminate soil and water, and may be consumed by animals and birds," BASMAA said. "Removing these shreds of thin plastic is challenging and time-consuming. That’s why reducing use of single-use plastic grocery bags as a litter source can help."

The statement said, the City of San Jose has already seen a reduction in plastic bag litter from 12 percent of all litter in 2010, to four percent of all litter in 2012.

The statement further said, litter is a major cause of water pollution, as it travels down storm drains and flows directly to local creeks, the Bay and the ocean.

"It degrades water quality and adversely affects fish, wildlife and aquatic habitats," the statement said.

BASMAA indicated, that fact is why a State Stormwater Permit issued to municipalities in five Bay Area counties in 2009 - Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Solano - required them to take actions to "virtually eliminate trash in stormwater run-off" by 2022.

"By 2014, a 40-percent reduction in trash must be met," BASMAA explained. "It is expected that these requirements will also be part of future stormwater permits issued to other Bay Area counties."

Some expect plastic bag bans to go state-wide, and soon - last month, state Assemblyman Marc Levine (San Rafael) introduced AB 158, a bill that calls for the ban of single-use plastic bags at the state level by 2015. The bill focuses on large retailers with 10,000 or more square feet and grocery stores with annual sales of $2 million or more. 

While some applaud the push toward a world with no plastic bags, others lament it, citing reasons such as the cost of reusable shopping bags, the dangers of food contamination from germs and bacteria that get trapped in reusable bags, and having to remember to carry reusable bags with them wherever they go and bring them into stores with them when they shop.

"We realize it takes time for people to make these kinds of behavior changes," said BASMAA Executive Director Geoff Brosseau. "The reusable bag movement has been a process of first encouraging people to bring their own bags, then having some stores offer incentives for doing it, and now having ordinances in place."

Brosseau likened the move to reusable bags to the moves toward the mandated use of seatbelts in cars, and ordinances prohibiting smoking in public places.

"Both changes once seemed unthinkable, and are now part of daily life," he said.

BASMAA offered the following tips for acclimating to a life without plastic bags:

  • For big shopping trips, keep reusable bags on the front passenger seat of your car so you remember to bring them into the store.
  • Always keep a small reusable bag in your purse or backpack to be ready for last-minute errands.
  • If you do opt to buy a paper bag when out, make sure to recycle it later.

For more tips on preventing stormwater pollution, visit BayWise.org

What do you think of local bans on plastic bags? Do you agree with BASMAA's reasons why plastic bags should disappear for good? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

ian butler February 24, 2013 at 08:53 PM
I literally "named" it the Secret Waterfall a few years ago and now that's it's unofficial name: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UOZZYCQBY8
Christa Bigue February 24, 2013 at 08:56 PM
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Steve Austin February 24, 2013 at 09:37 PM
The arguments for plastic bags all seem very hollow. As a dog lover I know full well that you can buy inexpensive bio-degradable poop bags. I have to remember to take my reusable bags into the grocery store, but I already remember to take my money ... and my pants. In the Bay Area, we live an a boom and bust jobs market and we all know that companies need to adapt their strategy to changing market condition to survive. Lastly, if you need to hide behind aliases and a bunch of alts in order to make invective comments about somebody, you are nothing but a coward. Evolve a spine and use your real name or go away.
Steve Austin February 24, 2013 at 09:52 PM
Ian has been involved in a number of environmental cleanup projects in the Pacifica area. It could be any one of these. He's best know for cleaning up the "hidden waterfall" area http://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Cleaning-up-litter-bugs-trash-can-3194822.php#photo-2333491 The waterfall picture in that area looks like it was taken after Ian, together with his friends and eventually the city, worked on cleaning it up. When we first started working on it, it was ghastly, and yes, there were a lot of plastic bags in there.
KellyG March 15, 2013 at 03:00 AM
I prefer to bring my own bag to the store so this doesn't change much for me. As long as someone can buy a bag if needed, it's all good in my book.


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