Aiming to promote a plastic bag-free Berkeley, the Better Berkeley Bag Ban was passed on Tuesday with the help of The California Public Interest Research Group, or CALPIRG, a student group at UC Berkeley.
According to Berkeley City Councilmember Sophie Hahn, who co-authored the ordinance, the student organization played an important role in the legislation’s passage.
“There are plastic bag restrictions at the state and county levels, but there are a number of things that are not covered by those,” Hahn said. “The purpose of this particular legislation is to fill in some of the gaps that exist in those regulatory schemes.”
The Better Berkeley Bag Ban aims to ban thick plastic bags from retail stores and city events, according to Paige Lieblich, campus chapter chair for CALPIRG Students. It also includes a ten-cent charge on pre-checkout produce bags in grocery stores.
Campus’s CALPIRG Students promoted the legislation by collecting nearly 4,000 petition signatures and 42 business sign-ons, according to Lieblich.
“Plastic pollution is incredibly harmful,” Lieblich said. “That’s why we stuck around, to fight on the behalf of the public. Hopefully this is just one step forward in the fight against plastic pollution.”
Lieblich added that studies have found that microplastics exist in human bodies, which she said is “scary” given it is not yet known how they impact human health.
The current use and disposal of single-use plastics is a “huge driver” of greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of streets and water, according to Hahn.
The Better Berkeley Bag Ban is a follow-up to a previous ordinance that Hahn authored on single-use plastics in foodware and the restaurant industry, which addressed plastic plates and to-go boxes.
“This legislation is essentially another piece of the same problem,” Hahn said. “It’s a continuation of my work to address the epidemic of throwaway plastics and the impacts on our community and globally.”
Lieblich said that Councilmember Kate Harrison, co-author of the Better Berkeley Bag Ban, reached out to CALPIRG Students last year to organize grassroots support for the legislation.
Hahn met with CALPIRG Students on Tuesday before the city council meeting to discuss her anti-plastic legislation and environmental work, as well as how they can work together moving forward.
“This is a really big step in changing how we think about using plastics,” Lieblich said. “We’re excited to see more leadership taken on the issue of plastic bags.”
Hahn noted that students have an important role as consumers, adding that they need to adopt habits that counter “throw-away culture.”
In order to reduce their amount of plastic waste, Hahn recommends that students carry reusable cups and bags.
“Every individual has choices they make every day that impact the amount of waste that they leave in their wake,” Hahn said. “Passing laws is going to help, but individuals taking responsibility for their waste needs to become a lifelong habit.”