After Pasadena City Council suspended the city’s plastic bag ban “until further notice” during their May 4th meeting, environmental groups pen letter to City Council asking for an immediate reversal of the suspension.
By News Desk
Below is the letter in its entirety as we received it:
Dear City Council Members, Mayor, and City Manager,
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals are disappointed with your decision to suspend the bag ban in response to COVID-19. There is no doubt that the safety of frontline workers, protection of vulnerable community members, and efforts to flatten the curve of COVID-19 are the first priority and we fully support policies that actually protect public health. However, this suspension lacks any evidentiary basis for rolling back a sound policy that mitigates both the climate and plastic pollution crises. While the stated suspension is temporary, we fear it could have long-lasting impacts on our local communities and our environment.
We strongly urge you to immediately reinstate Pasadena’s bag ban and increase fact-based communication with the public regarding the safety of reusable items.
We do not have to choose between worker safety and the sustainability of our communities – this is a false dichotomy.
Reusable items like grocery bags are safe and sustainable, and are no more likely to carry the virus than their disposable counterparts. This decision will lead to increased pollution from the production and disposal of single-use plastic bags and disproportionately impacts vulnerable frontline communities, without protecting workers’ health in any way.
COVID-19 is not known to spread through surface contact.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the COVID-19 virus “is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person…(between people who are in close contact with one another, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks)”. Guidance from the CDC points out that transmission of the virus from surface contact has not been documented. Aerosolized droplets are the only known method of COVID-19 transmission to date. Recommendations for disinfection of surfaces made through an abundance of caution, not based on evidence that surfaces are a known source of viral transmission.
Even if surface contact were a known vector of transfer for COVID-19, disposable and reusable products would be equally problematic.
The plastics industry often cites a debunked study funded by the American Chemistry Council that found reusable bags can carry bacteria to support claims that reusable grocery bags can be a vector of transfer for disease. The study, however, did not demonstrate any health-related threats posed by the levels of bacteria in the reusable bags. The bacteria detected in this study are not at all relevant to coronavirus transmission and the authors suggested that reusable bags, like other surfaces, be disinfected and washed, not replaced with disposable alternatives.
The most effective methods for protecting front-line workers are increased access to personal protective equipment, precautionary sanitation, practicing physical distancing, air-flow, and issuing guidance for how customers can bring their own bags for groceries without putting workers at risk.
Recently released OSHA guidelines do just that. They provide recommendations for how to safely use reusable grocery bags to prevent any contact and/or spread of illness. The most effective way to protect public health is widely sharing this science-based information, not encouraging the use of harmful disposable products.
Additionally, in their recommendations for reopening, cleaning, disinfecting, and worker safety, neither the CDC nor the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend using disposable items in place of reusables, but instead offer guidance on how to protect workers and keep work areas clean and safe. Input from medical professionals indicates that the use of disposable products creates a false sense of security and that proper disinfection and physical distancing are far more effective methods of slowing transmission and protecting public health. Suspending our bag ban is not an action in line with these guidelines and only encourages the use of pollution-causing disposable plastic products. Instead, this guidance should be made available to the communities and employers who need to follow them.
Heal the Bay’s beach cleanup data shows marked reduction in plastic bags at beaches and rivers since bag bans went into effect starting statewide in 2014. Plastic bags are not only a danger to our environment and wildlife, but also wreak havoc on recycling systems, clogging machinery and endangering facility workers who must halt conveyor belts and remove plastic bags by hand.
We do not want to go back to a time when these bags littered our communities, congested our recycling systems, and endangered our waste haulers. And if you still believe the non-supported idea that COVID-19 lives on plastic for three days, you are only increasing the amount of potential risk.
And as you all know, our state’s waste and recycling programs were already dysfunctional before the COVID-19 pandemic. Suspension of Pasadena’s plastic bag ban will only exacerbate stress on our city’s recycling system. Pasadena has failed to meet every goal of the Zero Waste Plan year after year while our recycling systems will only continue to struggle. This is a losing proposition.
We are in the midst of a waste crisis and, unless we take rapid action to slow our use of disposable plastics, that crisis will only continue to worsen.
Pasadena’s bag ban suspension not only puts our environment and recycling systems at risk, it puts California’s most vulnerable communities at risk.
Plastic is a petroleum product. It is disturbing to see the oil industry, which profits from manufacturing disposable plastics, taking advantage of this terrible pandemic to make even more money at our expense. Fossil fuel production to make plastics not only contributes to climate change, but burdens vulnerable communities who bear the brunt of the pollution and health impacts from oil extraction, transportation, and refining which contribute to underlying health issues that can make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Environmental justice communities, including communities of color and frontline communities, who already bear the burden of pollution from fossil fuel product production, are also the most susceptible to negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, during the pandemic, the fossil fuel industry has spent an enormous amount of time and money lobbying our decision makers for relief money, expecting those same taxpayers they are poisoning every day to bail them out of economic hardship. Actions to suspend plastic pollution reduction policies only benefit the pockets of big corporations while negatively affecting environmental justice communities on multiple levels and increasing already disproportionate impacts.
We urge you to immediately reinstate Pasadena’s bag ban.
We also urge you to disseminate fact-based information and guidance instead of suspending waste reduction and pollution prevention policies. The bag ban suspension is a shortsighted response that encourages disposables, and perpetuates a throwaway culture that takes us further away from being a healthy and sustainable community.
Emily Parker, COASTAL AND MARINE SCIENTIST, Heal the Bay
Cheryl Auger, President BAN SUP Owner BAN SUP Refill
Ozzy Simpson, Hub Coordinator Sunrise Sequoyah
Jennipha-Lauren Nielsen, Founder of ProjectPasadena & the ResourceForum.org
Wesley Reutimann, Pasadena Environmental Advocates (PEAs) Co-organizer
David Diaz, Executive Director, Active San Gabriel
Jesica Craven, Steering Committee member, Feminists in Action
> The research and documentation that formed the basis for this letter was written and documented by Heal the Bay.