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The Plastic Bag Problem 

marqueeGlobally, an estimated 500 billion to one trillion petroleum-based plastic bags are used each year, consuming 12 million barrels of oil for their production. (That equates to over one million bags being used per minute!) California's Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) estimates that Californians use nearly 20 billion single-use plastic bags per year and discard over 100 plastic bags per second. Unfortunately, most single-use plastic bags do not biodegrade, but instead persist in the environment for hundreds of years.

They slowly break up through abrasion, tearing, and photo-degradation into toxic plastic bits that contaminate soil and water and enter the food web. There, marine and domestic animals inadvertently ingest the plastic, endangering their health.

"Every piece of plastic ever created still exists today."
-Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation

The City of Pittsburg sits on the Delta which is connected to the world’s oceans through its stormwater system, ocean currents, and wind streams. As demonstrated in the video linked above, plastic bag litter from Pittsburg can contribute to the problem simply because of its proximity to the Delta.

The Solution

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that only five percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. This disappointing statistic has led to community action throughout the world, including our very own Pittsburg. The City is part of a federally mandated countywide regional stormwater permit. The Municipal Regional Stormwater National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit requires the City to develop “control measures and best management practices” such as “trash reduction ordinances,” in order to demonstrate a 70% trash load reduction by 2017 and 100% compliance by 2022. Therefore, the City of Pittsburg will be the first in East Contra Costa County to unite with at least 80 other United States cities and counties in the effort to reduce plastic litter. As of January 15, 2014, Single-Use Plastic Bags will no longer be provided by Pittsburg’s Retail Establishments (certain exemptions apply). Instead, the City urges its residents to carry Reusable Bags or purchase Recyclable Paper Carryout Bags for a small fee. For more specific details and a look at the Plastic Bag Regulation itself, please see the links below. 

hyperlink to ordinance








globe list of cities




 FAQ for Retailers



FAQ for Shoppers



Worldwide Regulation

Plastic Bags, Their Migration, and Effects

big algalita Majestic Plastic Bag jaques footprint

Reusable Bag Etiquette

Now that we know why to use reusable grocery bags instead of plastic and paper single-use bags, we must remember that this shift in buyer behavior changes the way cashiers and baggers do their job. Here are a few common-courtesy ideas to make shopping with reusable bags easier:

  1. Empty your reusable shopping bags completely.
  2. Wash your reusable bags regularly. Not sure how? Here’s a guide to cleaning reusable bags.
  3. Place your reusable grocery bags at the front of the conveyer belt so the cashier knows you have them.
  4. Separate your reusable shopping bags so the cashier can easily grab each one as needed. Also, specify which bags are meant for what products (meat, dairy, etc).
  5. Open folding reusable bags while you are waiting in line.
  6. When putting groceries on the conveyor, group heavy/bulky things together to be packed into the bottoms of your reusable grocery bags. The lighter items can go on top until each reusable bag is full.

Having trouble finding eco-friendly substitutes for plastic bags? Check out these lists of reusable bags vendors and recycled paper bag vendors!

Local Retailers and Reusable Bags


 Global Responsibility

"In 2011, we reduced plastic bag waste across our global operations by approximately 3.1 billion bags, a 35% reduction per store from our 2007 baseline. We have a goal to reduce the weight of plastic bag wast by 33% globally by 2013, which would mean: a reduction of 9 billion bags annually, the elimination of more than 135 million pounds of plastic shopping bag waste globally, the equivalent of 678,000 barrels of oil every year, and a greenhouse gas reduction of 290,000 metric tons."


Heart of Safeway

"By 2015, it is our goal to reduce the number of plastic and paper bags used by 1 billion. You can help us reach that goal by switching to reusable bags."


Green Initiatives

"Once purchased, [reusable bags] can be used time and time again at checkout, instead of plastic or paper sacks. We also encourage you to bring your reusable grocery bags from home and reduce the use of plastic or paper."


Sustainable Living

"Target guests have used more than 140 million reusable bags, avoiding the use of more than 350 million plastic bags."

Other Sustainable Pittsburg Businesses

Dollar Tree      Foods Co.      Payless Shoesource      Pet'sMart      99 Cent Store

 Radio Shack       RiteAid Sprint       Staples       T-Mobile       Walgreens    

Our own Pittsburg Pirates show their support for reusable plastic bags!



There are many plastic bag ordinances within California cities and counties, across the United States, and internationally.  To learn more about bag regulations around the world, see California Against Waste's website, and browse the map below.



Last updated: 3/7/2014 9:49:14 AM