California One Step Closer to Plastic Bag Ban!

The Assembly Appropriations Committee voted YES to phase out single use plastic bags in Sacramento on Thursday, despite heavy industry opposition.  The bill heading the movement, SB 270, is being promoted by California Senator Alex Padilla (D), and schedules the ban into effect July 1, 2015 for retail stores, and a year later for gas stations and liquor stores.  In addition to banning use of plastic bags, a $0.10 fee will be imposed on paper bags.  So not only is this guy enraging the chemists and plastics industry (who have sued small cities that attempted to independently pass this ban), now, he’s sending the American Forest and Paper Association into a frenzy.  I just have to give a big congrats Mr. Padilla, I can imagine that it’s not easy for someone in an elected position to piss off that many rich people; it seems like he does what he feels is best for the people, not for his campaign.  He would surely be taken out by Kevin Spacey ( it’s a House of Cards reference…fyi, awesome show). 

Now you may ask where the money goes for the $0.10 ban?  Well no where too exciting, the stores get to keep it.  However, this tactic to reduce waste has been proven in Ireland- bag use was reduced by 90% when a similar fee was administered for bags. 

So we Americans are pretty impulsive people, we like to see benefit of a change immediately, or we give up(which is most likely why our obesity rate is so high).  So lets focus on some benefits: 1) We can now be more aesthetically pleasing while walking from stores and around town… you cannot deny the plastic bag is ugly; 2) We can now express ourselves through an extra accessory (you know those bags will get cooler and become trendy); 3) Men have an excuse to carry a bag with stuff in it (finally I will have room in my purse for MY stuff when out with my husband); 4) They are less likely to break and lessen the likelihood of egg and milk explosions; 5) Lastly, you will no longer have that wad of plastic bags taking over your cupboard space.  Convinced yet?  If not, just do a Google search of ocean plastic, look at the images of animals trapped in plastic, and  that should do it!

plastic bagsThe Reusable Grocery Bag

Read my post on plastics if you want statistics and details about environmental and health impacts of plastic, but to summarize, all plastic is made from oil (and a shocking amount), chemicals released during production and chemicals leached from plastic are bad for the environment and the health of all living species, and almost all single-use plastic ends up in a landfill or in the ocean, where it does not biodegrade.  The next step is following San Francisco’s lead in banning plastic water bottles; the US spends 16 Billion (with a “B”) dollars on bottled water a year while we have the cleanest municipal water in the world… and if you want to see all the reasons tap water is better than bottled, read my post  and see my upcoming short film on that one too.


I’ve got 500 Billion Problems, But A Brita Isn’t One

By now, you know my stance on bottled water, and how ridiculous I believe the concept is.  I have never thought twice about taking a plastic bag from a grocery store, however, I refuse to throw them away; so I let them build up in my cupboard, in hopes for re-use, and then when they are coming out of the doors, I finally recycle them.  I was encouraged to  watch the documentary called “Bag it” cleverly named to make connections with the plastic bag, and the slang meaning. I have studied environmental engineering for over a decade and I was shocked by the statistics stated in this film and my follow-up research.

We go through 500 Billion single-use plastic bags a year, the US alone goes through 5 million bottled water products every 5 minutes, and the US spends 12 Billion dollars on bottled water per year! Can you imagine how much money and energy we would all save by investing in a $20 Brita filter? That sure is a lot of trash, money, and energy for a few minutes of use.  Your first thought may be “but I recycle, so…” Well, most plastic is not recyclable, including those plastic bags, and although most water bottles are, still 85% end up in a land fill or the ocean.   Have you seen those pictures of ocean trash? Well 90% of it is plastic, and there’s a scientific explanation for it!

All plastic is made from oil… Yes the same non-renewable resource that causes world wars, fuels our cars etc.  In 2006, 1.5 million barrels of oil was used to produce plastic, that number has likely jumped above 2 million today. To give you a visual, the amount of oil used to make one plastic water bottle is enough to fill it up half way!  Basically we are drilling into the earth for something that takes 75,000,000 years to create, then processing, transforming, and transporting it, so that we can use it for a few seconds to minutes, and then throw out.  All while most plastic is easily replaced by other material.  Completely crazy to me!

To add to the insanity, these products (that we really don’t need) create a whole “bag” of problems in the environment, and to human health. The manufacturing of plastics release harmful chemicals into the air, such as PET, hydro carbons, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide, which contribute to ozone holes, global warming, and human illness.  Now that we have the plastic, we’re done doing the harm, right? Of course not, as it turns out, chemicals in plastic can leach into the largest organ of the human body (your skin), though pores causing the following issues:

PVC (which is not recyclable): causes cancer, birth defects, respiratory diseases, liver failure, blindness, and more

Phthalates (not recyclable): endocrine disruption, asthma, and often disposed of by incineration causing cancer, birth defects, reproductive issues etc.

Polycarbonates with Bisphenol A (water bottles): Bisphenol A is linked to cancers, hyperactivity, and hormonal problems, even in small doses

(More can be seen at: www.

Statistics show that 85-90% of all bottles and almost 100% of remaining plastics end up in the ocean or landfill, where it remains intact for up to 1000 years. It does not break down, but the harmful chemicals can be leached into soil, water, or eaten by wildlife, and aquatic biota (and then we eat those contaminated fish).

So what can be done you ask?  Well a number of countries have already banned the distribution of plastic bags in stores, and Ireland imposed a fee (which dropped plastic bag use by 90%!!). Over in the US, as usual, San Francisco was the first to ban plastic bags, however when neighboring areas tried to accomplish the same goal, they were sued by the American Chemistry Council (who loves to pretend they are pro-environment to ensure future company gain), and other plastic industries who do not want to lose business. Well “earth to chemists”: how long do you thing you can keep this up with a non- sustainable material business plan and a growing population?!

So I tried to ban plastic from my life… I kept forgetting my reusable bag for the grocery store, but after I had to walk home carrying more than I could, dropping things every two feet, yogurt dropping and exploding all over me, I found a way to remember. I took my dog out with my “biodegradable” bag, and figured I would call the company to find out what it’s made of. The girl was very chipper and proud to be associated with her “zero waste USA” company.  When I asked what the bags are made of, she replied, “our bags are very special; they are oxo- biodegradable, which means that they are made with about 40% recycled plastic, and 60% new plastic.” I replied, “plastic??? Did I hear you right?? So you guys just lie on your label?!” She quickly said she would send me the data, which she did. This product is treated with a chemical called TDPA (which I can’t seem to find real data on) to breakdown when exposed to heat and oxygen in a landfill. Unfortunately for them, I am an engineer who is well aware that landfills function in anaerobic conditions (without oxygen). Soooo… their bags will not biodegrade – there will just be more plastic, in a landfill, with biodegradable material (poop) within them.  I need to do more research on corn-based doggie disposal products, and their apparent methane release, as well as other products, to determine if I need to create something, or if there is something out there already.

In conclusion, everything in the world is connected, so everyone makes a difference. Refuse to use single use plastics by using reusable bags, water bottles, and buying products with less, or no packaging,  and you too will be a superhero for yourself, and the planet!

Dog Waste Bag Dispensers



Dead Zone in Gulf of Mexico attributed to polluted runoff from farmland fertilizer

A story from MSN was sent to me and caught my attention.  Again, everything is connected… would you ever connect a cow in Missouri to a deoxygenated area unable to sustain life in the Gulf of Mexico?  Well, there is a very direct connection: farms are exempt from many water quality laws, however they are responsible for large pollutant loads to water ways.  Fertilizer and manure have high phosphorus and nitrogen content, which feeds algae to grow and form blooms.  These algae blooms uptake oxygen from water at the same time as blocking sun from reaching plant life below the water surface, preventing photosynthesis.  The combination of these occurrences can result in a “dead zone” where life cannot exist.  The Gulf of Mexico has the second largest recorded dead zone in the world at 5,000 sq miles, which is about the size of the state of Connecticut.  The high phosphorus and nitrogen loading is attributed to the Mississippi River and the farmlands along it. 

'Dead zone' in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of Connecticut: Graphic explains how dead zones occur.


See the story here:

Lake Erie Algae Bloom leaves 400,000 without drinking water

Ohio algae bloomJust another example of the need for sustainable design efforts; remember that everything is connected, that fertilizer you put on your lawn can, and will affect your drinking water!  I mentioned the algae prediction for northeast Ohio about a month ago, and conditions exceeded expectations leaving 400,000 residents without drinking water for three days this week! Read the story here: