The City of San Jose, to their credit, is one of the few cities that conducted litter surveys both before and after the city’s bag ban. Results showing the percentage reduction of single-use plastic carryout bags (i.e. plastic grocery bags) as a component of litter have been cited by the city as proof that the city’s bag ban is effective. Likewise, environmental groups nationwide have touted these same results as a justification for promoting new bag bans and opposing repeal efforts. Unfortunately, the City of San Jose did not conduct litter surveys in a controlled and scientific manner, did not correctly analyze survey data, and did not put survey results into proper perspective. As a result, the data collected is unreliable for computing a meaningful figure of merit, such as the percent reduction in plastic carryout bag litter resulting from the city’s plastic bag ban.
Yet, despite these shortcomings, the litter surveys did reveal several surprising facts that have escaped the notice of city officials, the media, and those in other cities who cite San Jose’s claims:
That only half of ALL plastic bag litter found in sampled areas on city streets and creeks consists of single-use plastic carryout bags; hence, a bag ban would at most eliminate only about half of all plastic bag litter.
That only about 10% of litter in creeks consists of single-use plastic carryout bags; hence, a bag ban affects at most 10% of ALL litter in creeks, leaving the remaining 90% unresolved. Therefore, all of the cost and cleanup efforts still need to be implemented since this will not meet the 100% reduction goal required under the federal Clean Water Act.
That the number of single-use plastic carryout bags found during all of the litter surveys in 2009, 2010, and 2011 (prior to the bag ban) average only 1,000 bags per year, or less than 1 for every 1,000 people, or the equivalent of what two (2) people out of a population of more than 1 million would use annually!
The use of unreliable and questionable survey data to project large percentage reductions of an insignificant number of littered plastic grocery bags combined with a complete lack of evidence of any cost savings to the city or to the people show that the bag ban was never justified from the beginning, and that the ongoing cost burden to San Jose families is likewise unjustified.
On February 24, 2015 the California Secretary of State, Mr. Alex Padilla, certified that the referendum to Overturn California’s Statewide Ban on Plastic Grocery Bags qualified for the 2016 ballot and will be decided by voters. The irony of ironies is that the California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who as legislator had championed the plastic bag ban, had to certify that sufficient valid signature were collected by referendum proponents to put it on the ballot! A total of 809,810 signatures were submitted by referendum proponents and county registrars projected that 598,684 signatures were valid based upon random sampling. A total of 504,760 valid signatures were needed with 93,924 signatures over and above the quantity needed.
Although, more than 100 jurisdictions within the state have implemented bag bans, they were implemented largely by nanny-state politicians, who thought it more important to be politically correct and be seen as “green” than doing the right thing. In fact, in every jurisdiction that has a plastic bag ban in the state of California, the bag ban was implemented by local politicians, rather than by a vote of the people. The referendum will finally give ordinary citizens the chance to vote up or down on the statewide bag ban.
It should be stated that plastic grocery bag litter is an insignificant litter problem that can easily be handled by more traditional litter abatement methods than by imposing draconian bag bans. In the article “San Jose Discovers Bag Ban Does Not Solve Litter Problems” we show that San Jose’s bag ban was useless in terms of reducing overall litter and in an upcoming article, we will show that San Jose’s own litter surveys show that plastic grocery bag litter to be an insignificant problem.
Ten months after the City of San Jose implemented their Plastic Bag Ban, Kerrie Romanov, Director of Environmental Services for the City of San Jose, issued a memorandum dated November 20, 2012 to the San Jose City Council claiming success of the “Plastic Bag Ban” (San Jose ordinance #28877). Romanov claimed this success based upon a 59% reduction in plastic bag litter on city streets and neighborhoods, a 60% reduction in plastic bag litter in creeks, and an 89% reduction of plastic bag litter in storm drains.