Bring your own … bag? Santa Barbara has the potential to be the next county to ban single-use plastic bags to protect our oceans and to significantly reduce our plastic consumption.

Approximately 12 billion single-use plastic bags are wasted annually in California alone. Of these bags, only 5 percent are recycled. The un-recycled bags contribute to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an island of waste that floats in the Pacific Ocean that is twice the size of Texas. The Garbage Patch is 80 percent plastic, and plastic bags take over 500 years to disintegrate in marine water. Sadly, plastic bags never fully biodegrade; instead, they only break down into molecular particles that sea mammals, as well as humans, inevitably consume. Is it logical that we use a plastic bag for five minutes and it floats in our ocean indefinitely. I don’t think so.

Assemblywoman Julia Brownley authored the statewide bill to ban plastic bags, which was rejected in 2010. Failure to pass this legislation, according to Brownley, was a failure to the people of California. Brownley admitted that California taxpayers pay $25 million a year to clean up the mess created by unnecessary plastic waste. Brownley added that “it’s very difficult to really completely clean it up, [but] it’s very easy for us to change our habits.”

Since 2010, plastic bag bans have been initiated in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Long Beach, Malibu, Santa Monica, San Jose, Calabasas, Manhattan Beach and Los Angeles counties. Santa Barbara County can be next to join this environmental movement.

Banning single-use plastic bags in Santa Barbara County would reduce our use of over 148 million bags to essentially zero. The best alternative to plastic bags is reusable bags such as cloth or canvas. Reusable bags are inexpensive and strong and protect our oceans. Paper bags are better than plastic; however, they are not the best alternative because manufacturing paper uses extreme amounts of energy and trees. Nevertheless, paper is easier to recycle than plastic, and many grocers, like Trader Joes and Whole Foods, offer paper bags that are compostable. But as stated above, BYOB (bringing your own bag) is the best, most sustainable and most efficient alternative to single-use plastic bags.

It’s easy to get involved in the movement to ban plastic bags. Several organizations at UCSB are joining forces to create a coalition with a goal of reducing plastic consumption and banning single-use plastic bags on and off campus. The coalition includes EAB, I.V. Surfrider, A.S. Coastal Fund, A.S. Recycling, CalPIRG and the UCSB Reads program. Today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., CalPIRG will be tabling in front of the Arbor to educate students on the single-use plastic bag issue and solution. CalPIRG will also be collecting petitions for those who would like to support the plastic bag ban in Santa Barbara County. Anyone who signs a petition will be entered in a raffle to win a reusable, eco-friendly bag. If you’d like to partake in this movement, come visit CalPIRG today to get started.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, the City of Santa Barbara is electing new city council members, and for environmental legislation to pass, it is important to elect advocators for eco-solutions. If you are registered to vote in Santa Barbara, please drop off your ballots at City Hall (735 Anacapa Street) or submit your vote-by-mail ballot as soon as possible. Every vote counts and, with the right representatives, Santa Barbara has the potential to be the next county to ban single-use plastic bags.

As the Pacific Ocean’s next-door neighbor, residents of Santa Barbarians have the ultimate responsibility to protect our oceans by banning single-use plastic bags. The solution is simple: BYOB. So, the next time a grocer asks you the controversial question “paper or plastic,” say with pride, “Thank you, but I brought my own bag.”

Jill Agonias is a fourth-year communication major.