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Rethinking Plastics Campaign

In following plastic bag ban news around the state of California for the past few months (and it is a busy arena), we at the Sonoma County Bag Ban Campaign have come to recognize that we AGREE with a lot of what the opposition maintains in their numerous lawsuits or threats thereof.

Stephen Joseph is the very busy lawyer for The Save the Bag Coalition, threatening lawsuits wherever whisper of a bag ban crops up, from Santa Monica earlier this year to little Fairfax back in 2007, when that frontrunner made the gentle move to a voluntary ban, thereby completing an effective end run. In that threat of lawsuit, the coalition maintained that the proposed .05 paper bag fee would not have been a sufficient deterrent toward reusable bags.   We agree, but don’t throw the ban out with the bathwater.

This coalition wants to make sure that no additional harm is going to be done to the environment in enacting such legislation.  We agree!   There are as many or more reasons to NOT use paper bags, as the greenhouse gas emissions from paper bag usage is triple that of plastic.  The emphasis on plastic bags is due largely to their being nearly weightless as they blow, float and degrade, eventually, into microscopic detritus in our natural world. However they insist that every city and county prepare its own Environmental Impact Report, where one report could suffice.

Marin County maintained in enacting their county ordinance earlier this year that an EIR should not be necessary, as it is tautological (or obvious) that a plastic bag ban can do nothing but good. They were sued for being too literal and not spending enough money.   Marin responded, to quote the late, great Supervisor Charles McGlashan, “Bring it on!” and we to the north wait to see if this “Categorical Exemption” holds up in court.

At the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency meeting on May 18, “Single Use Carry-out Bags” led off the morning, with a comprehensive presentation by agency staffer, Patrick Carter.   In it, Carter shared three possible avenues for bag ban movement, but happily, the group consensus sided solidly with a county-wide ban.  The staff will decide all the details to include in said ordinance, but we encourage a fee of .25 on paper bags to encourage reliance on reusable bags.  

There will likely be an allowance wherein shoppers buying groceries with food stamps would get their bags free. Many stores gave away reusable bags during Earth Week this year and with the number of totes already in existence, there will be ample for everyone once the sustainably fueled habit is fully underway.  They’re doing it in Bangladesh, Botswana and Brownsville, Texas -  we can do it here!

  1. Write an email to your city council representative saying “Ban plastic bags;” elaborate a bit!  If you live in the unincorporated part of the county, write to your Supervisor.
  2. Write a more extensive old-fashioned snail mail letter. These are said to “count for” seven votes.
  3. Give FUN reusable bags as gifts, and branch out to include small bags for produce and bulk purchases.   On the website, there are instructions for how to store produce once you get it home in your reusable cloth bags.
  4. Attend a city council meeting and speak out during public comment.   We can give you full direction on city council participation -  write to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
  5. While you are at all this, focus on reuse and get ready for and act on our next Styrofoam/polystyrene ban.
  6. Bring your own to-go ware and coffee mug out into the world, your own containers out for bulk shopping.


The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition believes it is vital that we rely on reusable bags. We agree.  They want these reusable bags to be made of polyethylene, petroleum-based.  Our sweet revenge will be to rely on cloth bags every time we shop.




Perfect for

How to do it…

Cloth Tote Bag

Just about anything:  apples, onions, potatoes, oranges, avocados, lemons, winter squash, carrots, rutabaga, corn, pomegranates, celery

Depends on the product, but many of these items can go loose into your fruit basket or your refrigerator’s produce bin.

Cloth Produce Bag

Small and sturdy fruits and vegetables:  kumquats, sugar snap peas, cherries, brussel sprouts, tangerines,  tomatoes, peaches

Leafy greens

Depends on the product, but many of these items can go loose into your fruit basket or your refrigerator’s produce bin.

It is advisable to transfer your greens to an air tight container before placing in the refrigerator.  Or you can rinse them and fold into a paper cloth.

Liner-less trash can

The Bay Area communities all have composting programs – put veggie scraps in the green bin or compost in your backyard.  Except for food waste, virtually all trash is dry and bacteria-free –

Much of our household waste these days is plastic (and other) packaging.  The packaging/dry waste can be used to contain any wet waste you throw out.  Some periodicals come in shrink wrap -

Shrink wrap from periodicals, old newspaper, plastic bags from newspaper delivery – hang onto them

Wrap meat and bones in the bags that your periodicals or magazines come in and carry it out to your large container.

Use old newspapers to wrap up wet items and carry out to the larger container.  Your kitchen can stays dry and clean-ish.

Mason Jars or reused glass spaghetti sauce jars

Nuts, beans, dried fruit

In your pantry at room temperature

A large hand-held basket

Stacking all your produce without any bags at all.  The basket approach allows for more control of where your head of lettuce sits, or your precious heirloom tomatoes.

Depends on the product, but many of these items can go loose into your fruit basket or your refrigerator’s produce bin.

Large Pyrex Glass Container or plastic Tupperware, carried in a tote bag

Loose greens, arugula, mixed greens, stinging nettles and more

Take home and drop it straight in the fridge. Greens stay good for 5-6 days.

Egg Cartons

Your next dozen eggs.  Or bring them back to replenish your egg farmers’ supply


Your handful of used and reused plastic bags

They appear all the time – newspaper, bread bag, pre-packaged greens; hang onto them!

Use for animal waste clean up.



The Rethinking Plastics Campaign (RPC) is a vital part of the Bay Area's Green Sangha as a spiritual community dedicated to environmental action (see below). Members active in their own environmental endeavors and communities joined together to map out courses of action around education, legislation, and motivation, coming from the heart for the health of all and the RPC was created. We considered the myriad environmental realities we could be devoting our energies to and much of the conversation and urge kept coming back to plastics.  This aspect of our lives, economies, history and future, health, creatures, and seas ties into so many others, ranging from assumptions and habits to the ability to think critically and recognize our deepest interconnnections and responsibilities.

It’s time to hear the deeper story about plastic pollution.

Green Sangha’s grassroots activists have been involved in sharing this information with citizens and decision-makers since our Rethinking Plastics campaign began in 2006.  Through 200 presentations, we have spoken to 6400 people (from schoolchildren to retired persons) about plastics and the social/industrial forces driving this environmental catastrophe. We have testified at public hearings on behalf of zero waste and plastics reduction.

Green Mary and others are trained to give presentations and help us all look for healthy alternatives together.

Green Sangha

Green Sangha is dedicated to restoring our sense of oneness—healing our communities and the earth through mindful practice and awakened action.

Green Sangha brings spiritual practice and environmental activism together. Like all ecologists, we see human society as inextricably linked with life systems all over the planet. We seek to raise awareness among all people, whatever their religious or spiritual outlook, of the impact of individual lifestyle decisions on our collective well-being.

As a grassroots organization, Green Sangha creates opportunities for individuals to come together to meditate, to educate and support one another, and to perform direct environmental action.

Monthly meetings are held in San Francisco, Marin county, Sonoma County and the East Bay. Visit the website for details.




Compostable Plastics: A Waste? by Will Bakx of Sonoma Compost

Most of us will agree that the use of compostable plastic (CP) products is preferred over conventional plastics. However, are compostable plastics truly compostable?

Will these products eliminate the plastic pollution that we see in our local creeks and rivers? Image


The logic does not suffice to warrant even the name of "compostable plastics." It is not a sustainable practice to substitute dependence on single-use plastic with a compostable plastic made from food production plants grown on arible land requiring large amounts of water, fertilizer and pesticides?


In response to calls for waste reduction, pollution prevention, energy conservation, and greenhouse gas reduction, much attention has been placed on the reduction, if not a ban, of plastic bags. The City of San Francisco recently banned conventional plastic bags in certain grocery stores. Many other cities and counties, including those in Sonoma County, are following suit. Compostable plastic bags appear to be a reasonable, though expensive, alternative. Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Wal-Mart are among retail outlets that are now carrying Compostable Plastic bags, utensils and packaging materials.


Sonoma Compost Company, the Sonoma County facility which composts most of the county's yard debris and vegetative food discards, is often requested to compost these products. Unfortunately, these products are not accepted at Sonoma Compost Company.


Three identified barriers exist with Compostable Plastics, which currently prevent these products from being composted.

BPI has no requirements with regard to organic farming standards.
1) the rate of decomposition—ASTM 6400 standards, as certified by the Biodegradeable Products Institute, require the following:

  • They must biodegrade at a rate comparable to yard trimmings, food scraps and other compostable materials;
  • They must disintegrate, so that no large plastic fragments remain to be screened our and;
  • They must disintegrate and biodegrade safely so that the compost is able to support plant growth ("leaves no visible or detectable toxic residue").

There is no clear acceptable rate of decomposition indicated in the standards.


The compostable plastics industry has done a great job in mimicking conventional plastic. So much so, that a problem arises when we try to sort plastic from the raw material for compost. In the process of removing plastics, the Compostable Plastics are also removed.


Unless a clearly identifiable system is created, perhaps by allowing Compostable Plastics to be colored in a manner somehow fully distinct from polymer plastics, the compostables will continue to be mistaken for conventional plastic and sorted out as garbage.


In addition, compostable plastics in recycled plastic reduces the quality of the finished recycled product, so there, Comoponstable Plastic is considered a contaminant.


Meanwhile, a compostable plastic bag blows away just as easy as a conventional bag. They pollute our land, streams, and oceans with a lifetime of 100 to 1,000 years, particularly during cold weather or outside any composting as compostable plastics depend on heat for their first stage of decomposition.


Additionally, the National Organic Program (NOP) does not allow any synthetics to be composted. Unless the NOP reviews the compatibility of compostable plastics and allows these products to be composted under their program rules, facilities that produce compost to meet organic standards cannot accept these products.


There are no easy solutions to replace the habits of using a plastic bag at the grocery store and plastic food utensils. We can all agree that the use of plastic contributes to pollution and is not sustainable.

As energy prices go up and oil supplies become more limited, reusable canvas bags and good old plates, cups, and silverware again make a lot of sense.


This article was authored by Will Bakx of the Sonoma Compost Company, LLC


Helpful links for more information:


See the three elements as required by ASTM 6400 standards:Note there is no reference to time.


BPI takes issue with their quantification of percent decompostition over time.

This site has some, but not enough information, even though it represents the BioDegradable industry.


However, this item from the BPI site takes issue with the validity of biodegradables.


Yes, even the Smithsonian wrote about this.

Will Bakx
Sonoma Compost Co., LLC
Soil Scientist
707 479 8098