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Interview with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, Author of AB 1998 - Ban the Bag

I have had the wonderful opportunity to connect with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley regarding the pending legislation bill that if passed, would BAN THE BAG!! This issue hits very close to home for me because UCSB friends and I have spent a lot of time and effort raising awareness of the detrimental effects single-use bags have on our local environment while also promoting reusable bags. Assemblywoman Brownley is taking initiative in addressing this issue through AB 1998. If passed, the bill will be a milestone California can be proud of in terms of environmental protection in the form of prevention instead of mitigation... This interview is a great follow-up to a recent post I made about AB 1998. (Keep your eyes open for an upcoming Company profile with ChicoBag!)

Here are the interview questions and answers... Special thanks to Assemblywoman Julia Brownley from Keen For Green!!

1. Can you tell us a little bit about the plastic ban bag AB 1998 that you are proposing? Where is it in the legislative process? What are the biggest challenges in getting it passed?

AB 1998 would ban plastic and regular paper single-use bags at check-out stands at grocery stores and drug stores beginning in January 2012 and at convenience stores and liquor stores beginning in July 2013. The measure would require stores to make reusable bags available for purchase at a reasonable cost. If shoppers forget their reusable bags they would be able to purchase a recycled paper bag made of at least 40 percent post consumer waste for not less than a nickel each.

The Assembly passed AB 1998 and it is now awaiting a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee before it comes up for a vote before the full Senate. It still must come back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote on amendments taken in the Senate before it goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.

The biggest challenge is combating the plastic industry’s assault, which is trying to protect its profits on one product at the expense of marine life and the environment.

2. In addition to bringing your own bag, how can people help at the individual level? Taking it one step further, what can activists do to help get AB 1998 passed?

Consumers can take a step further by bringing reusable bags with them wherever they shop, including at stores not covered by the ban. Some reusable bags are made to fold up or be stuffed into convenient hand-sized packs.

Activists can call or write the Senator and Assemblymember who represents them to urge them to vote for AB 1998. It is especially effective to organize group efforts. It makes it harder for lawmakers to ignore massive phone calls, letters and faxes.

* Call and Email your Representatives!!

3. Why plastic bags? With so many environmental hazards facing us today, what got you interested in writing legislation on this topic in particular?

I represent a district comprising more than 70 miles of coastline and six large parks where flimsy plastic bags blow like tumbleweeds into the water, up in trees and bushes. Not only are they an eyesore, they don’t break down in water where they injure and kill marine life. Californians use 19 billion single-use plastic bags a year and they cost more than $25 million a year to collect and take to landfills. It’s such a waste!4. You have a great green scorecard, can you tell us your inspiration for optimism within the green movement?

Many of my constituents are actively seeking ways to preserve the natural beauty of California for future generations and I look to them as a continual source of inspiration. For example, Santa Monica has banned Styrofoam containers provided at restaurants and has switched to ones that are compostable. I admire the way San Francisco residents are composting their food waste. There are a growing number of people throughout California who want to find ways to conserve energy, reduce waste and conserve our precious resources. This is a new wave and I want to be at the forefront.

5. What are some areas where progress in environmental legislation has been particularly slow?

We still haven’t been able to garner enough support for a statewide ban on Styrofoam, which can’t be recycled. I’ve carried legislation to reduce our use of PVC, which can ruin big batches of plastic being recycled, but manufacturers of this product and short-sighted business interests have blocked our efforts.

6. What do you think the next step is for California in terms of becoming a more sustainable state?

Getting AB 1998 passed and signed into law is the next step and then I would like to see plastic bags banned in stores besides the ones described in AB 1998. However, it will take a little time for people to adjust their habits and see how easy it is to switch to reusable bags.

There is much to be made in the area of sustainability. We need to protect AB 32, California’s 2006 law to reduce greenhouse gases, from industries that want to weaken its enforcement. We need to promote renewable energy sources so we aren’t tempted to risk our environment to lethal oil drilling disasters. We must find ways to reduce pollution at our ports, promote easily accessible, clean public transportation systems to break our reliance on cars and discover new ways to conserve water.