A little over a year ago, California voters became the first in the United States to approve a single-use plastic bag ban. With the passage of Proposition 67, Californians took a stand to protect our state’s diverse and fragile environmental systems from being further harmed by plastic bag litter. One year later, we are proud to say that the ban has been successful in reducing the amount of plastic that reaches local waterways and harms wildlife and water quality.

Data from Coastal Clean-Up Day shows that there has been a 72% decline in plastic bag litter from 2010, and plastic bags now account for only 1.5% of total litter compared to 10% seven years before. Furthermore, it cost the state $400 million, or about $10 per resident, to clean up littered bags prior to the ban.

Far from going unnoticed, California’s plastic bag ban set a trend. Hawaii decided to implement its own statewide bag ban, and municipalities across Massachusetts and Washington have taken the same step to protect waterways and wildlife. While many states have yet to follow our example, Californians should be proud of the fact that we have proven ourselves once again to be leaders in protecting both local and global waters from toxic plastic pollution.


Alameda County has recently expanded the scope of its single-use bag ban to include eateries. This means plastic take-out bags will no longer be available at restaurants, bakeries, cafés, bars, and food trucks across the county.

There were a few clues this might be coming, with a significant amount of Alameda County dining establishments already making the switch to more eco-friendly paper bags. But the decision earlier this month means that Alameda County now has one of the strongest bag bans in the Bay Area and a tougher policy than the one in effect across the state.

The first single-use plastic bag ban in Alameda County took effect in January 2013, but it only applied to grocery, drug, and liquor stores. In June of this year, retail stores were added to that list. The impacts of the bag ban have been very positive. There has been an 80% decline in the number of single-use plastic bags purchased by businesses for distribution, and a 44% decline in plastic bags ending up in the county’s storm drains.

Alameda County has been a leader in addressing the negative consequences of plastic bags and their impacts on the San Francisco Bay. We hope that restaurants across the county continue this leadership and act quickly to comply with the law. Repeated non-compliance could result in a fine or other enforcement action for businesses. Consumers can use this form to let the county know about restaurants that may need their help in transitioning to the new law: http://www.reusablebagsac.org/non-compliance-reporting-form


Trash from state roads and bustling freeways is flowing into creeks and, ultimately, poisoning San Francisco Bay. But you have the power to stop this pollution from choking and killing local wildlife. Sign our petition today to make sure the Water Board forces Caltrans to clean up this mess.

What comes to your mind when entering the bath after a long, busy day? Most likely you’ll be feeling clean and relaxed. However, have you ever thought about the contents of your bath water afterwards? After all, the oils, bacteria, and other grime on your body don’t magically disappear after they’ve been stripped off.

Similarly, rain flowing through streets appears to clean the landscape as it washes away trash and dirt. Unfortunately, the first significant rainfall of the year holds an often overlooked dirty not-so-secret. It’s called the first flush, and it’s not just trash and dirt that’s being removed from Bay Area streets. Motor oil, cigarette butts, pet waste, pesticides, and other pollutants are picked up by rainwater and enter storm drains, which flow into creeks and ultimately into San Francisco Bay, which acts as a bathtub for the region that drains into the ocean.

North Bay Fire’s Continued Destruction

This year, the first flush brings with it an even greater concern for pollutants into the local waterscape with the tragic and devastating North Bay firestorm in Sonoma and Napa Counties. In addition to homes and businesses, the fires destroyed vegetation that would have stored excess rainwater and filtered its contents through soil. This means that wastes such as household chemicals and heavy metals from burnt areas, which turn more toxic after being exposed to fire, can flow much more freely into local creeks and into the Bay, making the first flush that much more hazardous to wildlife and public health.

The good news is that North Bay, state, and federal officials have acknowledged this threat to regional water quality and are constructing and planning collection ponds to capture and filter debris-ridden water before it enters creeks. Nevertheless, with the additional burden coming from this tragedy, Bay Area residents should be extra vigilant at preventing trash and other pollution from ending up in the Bay and further poisoning wildlife and water quality.

How Can I Help?

Rain is nature’s way of cleansing the landscape, but first flush serves as a reminder that our urban areas act as nature’s drain and there is still a lot of work to be done to stop the flow of pollution into San Francisco Bay. We can start with simple actions such as not littering, moving cars from the sidewalk on street sweeping days, and using reusable bags and bottles.


On Tuesday, I wrote about the Bay Area’s overall progress in reducing trash flows to the Bay. I noted that some cities are doing well at addressing their portion of the problem, while others are falling far behind requirements and are in violation of their stormwater permits. Today I’m digging a little deeper, with a detailed overview of six cities and one county which have made varying progress to reduce trash in their communities and storm drains.

Vallejo (population 120,228)
Vallejo claimed to have achieved a 34.8 percent reduction in stormwater trash in 2017, which is actually a step backward from their 44 percent estimate in 2016 and is well below the required 70 percent reduction by 2017. This adjustment—the result of more accurate calculations—means that the city is further behind schedule than expected to meet the zero trash requirement by 2022. Vallejo claims that fiscal constraints, along with outdated trash data, resulted in the city’s failure to reach the 70 percent requirement. The city has recognized these issues and published a report on how it will come into compliance with the trash requirements. Vallejo plans to install trash capture devices in city storm drains in 2018, but did not specify how many. Other actions include more accurate trash monitoring, increasing street sweeping, and partnering with local businesses including Six Flags to clean and maintain highly visible public areas.The city’s report admits that it will continue to be behind reduction schedule for the next three years, aiming to reach 70 percent trash reduction by 2019 and 80 percent by 2020. Nevertheless, it plans to meet the 2022 zero trash requirement. Vallejo has been able to secure $1.4 million for trash capture devices and other trash reduction strategies, but it is unclear whether this will fund all necessary activities. Save The Bay is very concerned about Vallejo’s lack of progress on trash.
Alameda County (unincorporated) (population 140,800)
The unincorporated areas of Alameda County (e.g. Castro Valley, San Lorenzo) claim an 18.5 percent reduction in 2017, up from 12 percent in 2016. This figure is among the lowest trash reduction rates in the region and is of great concern given the size and population of this area and the fact that little has been done by the county government for seven years. The only trash reduction measures so far have been bans on single-use plastic bags and take-out Styrofoam containers, as well as trash capture devices that cover only a small area.The county has plans to install three trash capture systems in specific high trash areas and smaller devices in other areas by the end of 2018. If these systems are installed this year, Alameda County expects to have achieve an 84 percent reduction by the end of 2018. Any additional delays, however, could put them even farther behind schedule and place the county at risk of enforcement action by the Water Board.

Trash flowing into the San Francisco Bay from stormwater systems is one of the most visible environmental issues in the Bay Area. The trash circulating in waterways—much of which is plastic and will never biodegrade—not only spoils shoreline scenery and harms wildlife, but also makes its way out into the Bay, which drains into already badly polluted oceans.

In order to address this issue, in 2010 the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered 78 Bay Area cities and agencies to eliminate trash from their stormwater systems by July 1, 2022. This is to be achieved through steady targets, with a 70 percent reduction in trash from 2009 levels in 2017 and an 80 percent reduction by July 2019.

Last year, we wrote about how cities were progressing on the path to Zero Trash, and we are back this year to give you an update on progress made in 2017. There is some good news around the region. Many of the largest improvements over the last year have been in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, as well as the Bay-side cities of Alameda County. However, a handful of communities have lagged far behind, particularly in Contra Costa County. Which cities are on the path to zero trash by 2022, and which ones are violating clean water regulations?