Environmentalists produce award-winning doc to fight plastic

As more communities and cities began to act on their own to prohibit the sale of plastic bags, local anti- pollution proponents are hoping a documentary on the topic will compel their elected officials to take action soon.

Transition Culver City, a local conservation and sustainability organization, will be screening Bag It!, a 74-minute documentary shot on video about the plastic bag industry, Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the Culver-Palms United Methodist Church.

Advocates of a ban on the sale of plastic bags in Culver City are counting on the film to generate a groundswell that will pave the way for the Culver City City Council to halt the sale of the synthetic material, as neighboring communities have done.

“Our biggest goal from this screening is to collect signatures to encourage a statewide plastic bag ban solution to help our local municipalities address their massive budget concerns by allowing them to cut their waste-cleanup bills,” explained Andy Shrader, a co-sponsor of the documentary.

“We are showing this film to build community awareness on the key issue of plastic waste and its disastrous effect on our well-being,” added Meghan Sahli-Wells, a community organizer and member of Transition Culver City.

The film details the effects of plastic bags on the environment, and explores the alternatives of paper and reusable bags. Bag It! also examines a recent proposal to ban plastic bags in Boston and other U.S. cities, and shows how grocery stores, retailers and recycling programs are dealing with plastic bags.

The documentary won the Best of Festival award at the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in Monterey last year.

Santa Monica joined seven other cities statewide in passing an ordinance that will prohibit the selling of the non-biodegradable bags Jan. 25. Malibu has already instituted a similar policy, as has San Francisco and Palo Alto, as well as the county of Marin, also in Northern California.

Los Angeles County approved a ban on plastic bags in the unincorporated portions of the county in December. The ordinance, which includes a 10-cent charge for customers who want to purchase a paper bag, will take affect next year.

Representatives of Save the Plastic Bag Coalition say the county should have asked for more than 10 cents for paper bags. “San Jose started at 10 cents, will go to a quarter beginning in 2014,” said Stephen Joseph, the organization’s attorney.

The San Francisco-based group’s Web site states that the sole purpose of the coalition is to “inform decision-makers and the public about the environmental impacts of plastic bags, paper bags and reusable bags.”

Before Culver City’s elected leaders consider a vote on banning the non-reusable bags, they should have the most accurate information about the debate between proponents and those who object to prohibiting its sale, Joseph added.

“All that we’re concerned with is environmental truth,” the attorney said. “We want to ensure that the Culver City City Council has all the facts before making any decision.”

Sahli-Wells and others in Culver City were discouraged when a similar attempt to enact a statewide prohibition, Assembly Bill 1998, failed in the state Senate on Aug. 31 last year. “In response, Transition Culver City decided to hold a ‘Community Think Tank’ to publicly discuss plastic bag use and its consequence on the environment – and to focus on solutions to this challenge,” she said.

At that meeting, held outside City Hall on Oct. 20, a number of participants called for a municipal ban. “Three months have passed and we have yet to see this issue on the council agenda, whereas neighboring cities have passed bans already,” Sahli-Wells noted.

State Sen. Curren Price (D-Culver City) voted against AB 1998, citing the burden on small businesses.

Friends of the Ballona Wetlands Executive Director Lisa Fimiani feels that the scourge of plastic debris poses a threat to the environment, therefore, municipalities should seek their own solutions even if the state has not.

“At this point, anyone who wants to do [a citywide ban on plastic], I’m all for it,” Fimiani, a Culver City resident, told the News. “We live and work with plastic, and when it comes to seeing biodegrading in our wetlands, then I’m all for [a ban].”

To date, no Culver City legislator has publicly supported a citywide ban.

Sahli-Wells said she feels some are concerned with potential injunctions against such an ordinance.

“We’ve heard some concern from members of the Culver City Council that the city must protect itself from lawsuits before enacting a ban on plastic bags,” she said. “This is completely understandable,” she said, adding that nobody wants to waste money.

“It’s important to note, however, that there is strong precedent from major cities like Santa Monica, as well as Los Angeles County, that should enable Culver City to move forward swiftly and with confidence if the council decides to enact a ban.”

Sahli-Wells also pointed out that ordinance passed by the supervisors provided an environmental impact report that covers the entire county. “This is precisely to protect incorporated cities from lawsuits from the likes of the American Chemistry Council, which was responsible – along with our state Senate – for stopping the statewide ban,” she added.

The American Chemistry Council, which made financial contributions to lawmakers who opposed AB 1998, represents companies such as Dupont, Occidental Chemical Corporation, ExxonMobil Chemical Corporation and Honeywell.

On its Web site, Save the Plastic Bag claims in a statement to have no ties with the council.

“Nothing that we do is discussed or coordinated with the ACC. We are totally independent. In fact, we disagree with the ACC on paper bag fees,” the statement says. “We strongly believe that if plastic bags are banned, paper bags should be subject to a fee to prevent an environmentally detrimental switch from plastic to paper.”

Fimiani, whose organization has worked to protect and restore the wetlands for more than 30 years, said the energy to create a ban has to start in each city and could occur in Culver City with the documentary.

“A groundswell has to start in order to get the other cities to do it,” Fimiani said. “We’ve painfully seen [the effects of plastic] in the wetlands.”

The Santa Monica-based environmental group Heal the Bay, which sponsored AB 1998, says that less than 5% of plastic bags used in California are recycled. According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, because plastic bags do not biodegrade in the ocean, they pose a threat to marine animals that can confuse the bags with food and ingest them, leading to choking, starvation or suffocation.

Save the Plastic Bag contends that paper bags have a much greater negative impact on the environment than plastic. The organization points to an environmental impact report for Los Angeles County, which found that paper bag production consumes more energy and more water than plastic bags.

Shrader, a Clean Seas Coalition member, said he has invited the entire city council along with Price to view the screening.

“I’m proud to be co-sponsoring a screening of Bag It!, a wonderfully entertaining and fun film, which spells out a myriad of health and environmental problems associated with plastic bags and other single-use plastics,” said Shrader, who was instrumental in the Mar Vista Community Council passing a resolution asking Los Angeles to ban the sale of plastic.

Santa Cruz County, in Northern California, is also reportedly considering a ban on plastic, as well California’s neighbor to the north, Oregon.