CALPIRG campaigns to ban plastic bags statewide

CALPIRG used a giant signable tote bag inscribed with the pun “We are totes ready” Wednesday to help gather signatures and raise awareness for “Bag Free Week” —  part of the group’s ongoing campaign to ban plastic bags across California.

The event was intended to gain signatures for a petition banning the bags across the state that will be presented to the state senate this summer, according to CALPIRG intern and UC Berkeley freshman Han Sun.  Shi Shen, another CALPIRG intern and UC Berkeley freshman,  said that the organization aims to gather 2,000 signatures from UC Berkeley students.

The organization attempted to get a similar ban passed statewide in 2009 but lost by two votes in the state Assembly.

According to a CALPIRG press release, the rationale behind the “Bag Free Week” is to reduce waste and show “that Californians are ready to ban plastic bags statewide.” CALPIRG interns have also collected more than 160 pledges so far from students agreeing not to use plastic bags for the duration of the week.

Californians use 12 billion plastic bags per year, according to the press release. While the reduction in plastic bags brought about by this “Bag Free Week” is a “small percentage” of the total usage, it is a “strong gesture” that can affect political officials, said Shen.

The current campaign follows a bag-ban victory Jan. 25, when Alameda County passed an ordinance banning the distribution of single-use plastic bags in certain establishments.

In February, Berkeley City Council took steps toward drafting a local ordinance that would expand upon the county ban. While the county legislation exempts retailers who do not sell packaged food such as restaurants, take-out food establishments, retail stores and charitable thrift stores, the recommendation proposing the city ordinance suggests Berkeley apply the ban to “all retail non-restaurant businesses.”

If passed, the city ban would take effect at the same time as the county’s next January, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington.

CALPIRG is attempting to gather 60,000 signatures by the end of the semester from the UC, CSU and California community colleges to present to legislators for the statewide ban, according to CALPIRG intern Kat Lockwood.

In past campaign efforts against plastic bags, CALPIRG has employed attention-grabbing stunts similar to the tote bag in the form of a giant inflatable turtle and members dressed entirely in plastic bags. CALPIRG intern and UC Berkeley freshman Sam Keutzer said such strategies, including today’s tote bag, are effective. Shen added that they bring “attention from the public.”

CALPIRG members are optimistic about the success of their campaign.

“People are really willing to do something,” Keutzer said.