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Great Pacific Cleanup

By Vince Slevin
CALPIRG State Board Chair

- Alex Gomes, CALPIRG Executivs State Board Treasurer, UC Santa Barbara Chapter Chair

California students from San Diego to Davis have been working hard to address the problem of plastic pollution in the Pacific. A great pacific garbage patch twice the size of Texas is swirling around in our ocean, killing millions of birds and marine animals, such as sea turtles. An estimated 80% of this marine debris comes from land-based sources of trash, such as single-use plastic grocery bags. Californians use an average of 12 billion plastic grocery bags each year, enough to travel to the moon and back 9 times. In the past few months, we have successfully moved plastic bag bans forward in four of the six cities we were working in, setting the stage for a statewide ban to be introduced in the State Assembly in January. Collectively, the student CALPIRG chapters have generated over 25,000 petitions to ban the bag.

In addition to collecting grassroots petitions, CALPIRG students have been organizing media events, building coalitions, and creating lots of visibility around the issue. The CALPIRG chapter at UC Berkeley organized a week dedicated to ocean education, which included a press conference with the mayor. He was not the only special guest they invited. They featured a 25-foot inflatable sea turtle for the entire community to see.

Students in cities and counties such as Davis, Alameda county and Glendale have successfully urged their elected officials to introduce bans. In cities and counties where bans have passed, such as Los Angeles, students are pushing for stricter legislation. CALPIRG has started a conversation that has spread across the state and beyond. With the precedent set by the 14 cities and counties in California that have passed bag bans, places such as Washington have gone on to pass state-wide bans. Our goal is so see the same happen in our state with the introduction of a bill this January.