Conservation & Science

The science backing California’s plastic bag ban

Like shards of plastic litter on the beach, the science on ocean plastic pollution comes in bits and pieces. One study found plastic debris in one-fourth of all fish sampled from a San Francisco market. Another concluded if we don’t slow the flow of plastic pollution, by the year 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea.

Balloons marine debris Santa Cruz Island
Balloons pollute the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by CINMS/Natalie Senyk

Research suggests almost every juvenile Hawaiian hawksbill turtle has either gotten tangled in, or has eaten, plastic. An estimated 90% of seabirds swallow plastic, too.

As the amount of plastic pollution in our ocean grows, so does the need for scientific research to help guide solutions.

In our effort to assess the scope of the problem, Monterey Bay Aquarium and The Benioff Ocean Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will co-host a science summit on the subject in Los Angeles.

At this free, public event, learn about the impacts of plastic pollution, explore hands-on activities to better understand the issue, and discover how you can be a part of the solution.

  • When: Wednesday, Oct. 12 from 1 to 4 p.m.
  • Where: University of Southern California, Tutor Campus Center, Trojan Ballroom A (see map below)
  • Getting there: Ride the Metro Expo Line. Free parking also available in USC Parking Structure X

The event will feature a discussion panel with top California marine researchers, who will present the latest science about the impacts of plastic pollution on ocean ecosystems, marine wildlife and even our own health.

UCSB biology professor Douglas McCauley will moderate. The panelists are:

A plastic bag litters the seafloor. Photo by NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program
  • Dr. Kyle Van Houtan, the Aquarium’s science director, who is an expert on the impacts of plastic pollution on ocean wildlife;
  • Dr. Roland Geyer, UCSB industrial ecology associate professor, who has analyzed the amount of plastic pollution in the global ocean; and
  • Jennifer Brandon, a Ph.D. candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who is studying ocean microplastic pollution.

Attendees will also hear from our special guests, actors and activists Amy Smart and Sharon Lawrence, both members of Heal the Bay’s Board of Directors.

While we’re on the subject, here are a few more plastic pollution statistics to consider. Californians use up to 20 billion plastic bags each year—but each bag is useful for only 15 minutes. Many of these bags end up in the ocean each year, where animals like sea turtles mistake them for food.


In 2014, California legislators passed, and Governor Brown signed, a new law banning carry-out plastic retail bags statewide. It would have gone into effect in July 2015—but out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers forced the law to a public referendum, delaying its implementation.

The science summit is happening less than a month before California’s Nov. 8 general election—and the Aquarium urges a YES vote on Proposition 67. A YES vote will allow the statewide bag ban to go into effect, reducing one significant source of ocean plastic pollution.

If you’re in Southern California on Oct. 12, we hope you’ll join us for our public event at USC!


Learn more about ocean plastic pollution, what the Aquarium is doing about it, and how you can help.


One thought on “The science backing California’s plastic bag ban”

  1. Yes, I agree with you. We must push this hard to ban plastic contamination in our oceans. I want my grandchildren to have contamination free oceans with a bounty of healthy sea life. Bob

    Liked by 2 people

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