A 30-foot-wide inflatable turtle sat on the lawn outside Long Beach City Hall to protest against overturning the plastic bag ban March 24. Dressed up in green shirts and holding posters, 20 students lined up alongside the giant turtle likeness.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 270 into law in Sept. 2014, stopping large grocery stores and pharmacies from providing single-use plastic bags in the state. Since 2007, 147 county or local jurisdictions have banned single-use plastic bags, according to Californians Against Waste, and on Nov. 8 the election to uphold or overturn the bill will take place.
The California Public Interest Research Group is a consumer interest group whose mission is to stand up to special interests by studying and advocating for problems that affect the health and livelihood of the state’s population. This year, a small group from the organization decided to engage in an alternative spring break by advocating for the state to uphold the ban of single-use plastic bags.
“The turtle resonates with us as an organization,” group spokesperson Semi Cole said. “It is one of the creatures that often get trapped in this environmental disaster because of the ocean pollution. Turtles have been found eating plastic and died because of it. That breaks our heart and we want to provide justice for creatures like them.”
Cole, a political science sophomore at UC Riverside, has been connecting with different political organizations that want to see a progressive change on the issue. Together with 19 of his fellow students, he’s been traveling from city to city to attend press conferences and talk to local people. He hopes that their work will contribute to upholding the bill.
Experts at the World Economic Forum expect oceans to be filled with more plastic than fish by the year 2050, according to their January report. CALPIRG members say they believe the multi-million dollar corporations in the plastic industry are trying to mislead and misinform the public in order to sway the vote in their favor.
“When it comes to the plastic bag ban, it is interesting how much corruption there is,” said Mariela Padilla, CALPIRG member and social ecology freshman at UC Irvine. “A lot of companies have paid the government to put a hold on this ban. But they do not really see the effect that the bags and the plastic have on the environment.”
The district director for Senator Ricardo Lara, Nick Jiles, attended the protest to demonstrate the senator’s support for the bill. Lara is one of the co-authors of Senate Bill 270. Jiles said he does not believe that the plastic industry is corrupt, but that it is simply fighting to maintain its profits without thinking about eventual environmental consequences.
“What we are seeing is that the industry is fighting back against progress,” Jiles said. “Corporate social responsibility is often an oxymoron. When we talk about this industry specifically, they are not interested in any type of corporate responsibility. They are interested in the bottom line, and that is what we can see in their spending.”
After a short protest, the CALPIRG members walked down to the Shoreline Aquatic Park where they gathered to clean and pick up trash.
“Now is the time to promote a much more sustainable culture,” Cole said. “Now is the time to bring that future forth.”
The vote on the plastic bag ban will take place as part of the general election on Nov. 8.