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Local Clean-Up Efforts Find Fewer Plastic Bags One Year After California's Ban

Jeff Barnard / AP

Jeff Barnard / AP

Each September, thousands of California volunteers clean up trash in their communities. They count and record how many items they find, from pieces of foam to candy wrappers.

You can sift through those results by neighborhood, county or state.

“Going back as far as I can remember, plastic bags were one of the third, fourth, or fifth most common items found on California beaches,” says Mark Murray with Californians Against Waste, an organization that supported the statewide ban.

Murray says the bags have dropped out of the top 10 in many communities since grocery and retail stores were banned from using them a year ago.

But he notes tallies from this September's Coastal CleanUp Day are still incomplete as some local groups have not yet submitted their data.

Kera Panni of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which works to fight ocean pollution, hails the bag ban as a good first step in reducing plastic waste and changing personal habits.

But Panni also points to exponential growth in global production of single-use plastics.

"If we don't slow down (in terms of) how much of this stuff we make and use, we will just have a growing problem on our hands,” she argues.

As plastic moves through ocean food webs it can have impacts on wildlife and ecosystems and might even impact human health, says Panni.

While California was the first state in the nation to pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, the law did carve out an exception.

That's why you still see plastic bags when you go grocery shopping. They're allowed for meat, bread, produce, perishables and bulk items. 

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