In an abundance of caution in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a 60-day, temporary suspension of the state’s single-use plastic bag ban and fee for retailer-provided bags, and allowed retailers to pause in-store redemption of beverage containers. On June 16, Ocean Conservancy CEO Janis Searles Jones sent the governor a letter urging him to let the suspension expire on June 21 given new information about the virus and growing concerns about the impact of the pandemic on ocean plastic pollution. The governor chose not to renew the temporary suspension of the plastic bag ban and bag fee. On June 29, 2020, Janis Searles Jones released the following statement:
Ocean Conservancy applauds Governor Newsom for listening to medical and scientific experts and allowing California’s ban on single-use plastic bags to go back into effect. California, once again, is showing the nation how to lead in addressing the plastic pollution crisis amidst the pandemic.
Since April, when the suspension was first announced, no scientific evidence has emerged suggesting that single-use plastic bags are any safer than other materials, nor that they are any less likely to be contaminated than other grocery store surfaces. The surest protection against the coronavirus at the grocery store is for consumers to follow Cal-OSHA’s guidelines on social distancing, wearing of masks, and bagging their own groceries using their own reusable bags.
Plastic pollution threatens our ocean and waterways and the wildlife and communities that depend on them. Plastic bags are particularly insidious: easily confused for jellyfish and other prey, they are among the deadliest forms of marine debris and are always among the top ten items collected during Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup. In 2018, volunteers removed more than 17,000 plastic grocery bags from California beaches in a single day; worldwide, the numbers reached nearly 1 million.
California voters in 2016 overwhelmingly supported a ban on single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, which has since led to an 85% reduction of single-use plastic bags in the state. We are pleased to see that this progress will continue.
Ocean Conservancy has led the fight for a clean, healthy ocean free of trash since 1986, when the U.S.-based nonprofit launched its annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). Since then, Ocean Conservancy has mobilized millions of ICC volunteers to remove trash from beaches and waterways around the world while pioneering upstream solutions to the growing ocean plastics crisis. Ocean Conservancy invests in cutting-edge scientific research, implements on-the-ground projects, and works with conservationists, scientists, governments, the private sector and members of the public to change the plastics paradigm. To learn more about our Trash Free Seas® program visit oceanconservancy.org/trashfreeseas, and follow Ocean Conservancy on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.