Environmental Quality / 2013

The Million Reusable Bag Giveaway

The Million Reusable Bag Giveaway

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by California Greenworks

California Greenworks, in partnership with Green Vets LA and Homeboy Industries, proposes the “Million Reusable Bag Giveaway” pilot program, to create and distribute 25,000 reusable shopping bags (with an overall goal of 4 million) in lower-income Los Angeles neighborhoods as the City’s plastic bag ban goes into effect. Using informational inserts in the bags, we will spread the word about cost-saving and environmentally-urgent energy efficiency and water conservation programs. This program will positively impact at least four LA 2050 indicators by: 1) immediately increasing stable Income & Employment of two of LA’s most at-risk populations: homeless, disabled and returning combat veterans, and formerly-gang involved and recently-incarcerated men and women; 2) Educating low-income and traditionally difficult-to-reach populations about new energy efficiency and water conservation measures introduced by the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (LADWP), thereby helping reduce their monthly utility and weekly shopping bills… 3) …while improving Environmental Quality by reducing greenhouse gas emissions in terms of electricity and water use, and reducing the use of single-use shopping bags which often become blight and part of the litter stream in our neighborhoods and waterways; 4) and building a bridge of Social Connectedness between two previously disparate communities who share similar challenges around assimilation and acceptance into the mainstream Los Angeles society. The Million Reusable Bag Giveaway pilot project will employ Green Vets LA veterans in making 25,000 reusable shopping bags, and Homeboy Industries in silk-screening them, and will engage City Councilmembers, Los Angeles neighborhood councils, faith-based and community groups and environmental organizations such as the Clean Seas Coalition, the Green LA Coalition and the LA Climate Action Coalition in distributing the bags. Once the pilot project is up and running, California Greenworks will continue the “Million Bags” fundraising process by involving local businesses (such as grocery stores, local utilities such as LADWP, sports teams such as the Dodgers, film studios, et al) to sponsor the project in exchange for their logos being imprinted upon durable shopping bags that will be used weekly by Los Angeles consumers for the five to ten year expected life of these durable shopping bags. The ultimate goals of the Million Bag project are to provide a free reusable shopping bag, with energy efficiency and water conservation tips within it, to every one of the nearly four million residents in the City of Los Angeles, to substantially reduce electricity and water use across the City, reduce greenhouse gas emissions as the threat of climate change looms, and, in the process, to create a sustainable sewing and silk screening industry staffed by at-risk populations who will benefit from a growing trend of plastic bag ban ordinances spreading across California, the United States and the world.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

California Greenworks has established itself as one of the premier environmental groups within South Los Angeles. California Greenworks directs its efforts to the at-risk communities in South Los Angeles. Our projects revolve around environmental education programs, revitalization of urban open spaces to reduce blight, promotion of water quality and advocacy for green jobs.

The following are a few of California Greenworks programs and initiatives:

  • EarthFestLA – Annual Concert for the Environment & Expo – Beginning in 2006, California Greenworks produced its first environmental fair in the City of Watts, then called “South LA Earth Day Festival.” Since then, EarthFestLA has become an annual, family-oriented event focusing on environmental education and community health awareness. Website for EarthFest LA 2012: www.EarthFestLA.org.

  • Community-based Energy Efficiency Water Outreach Program (through the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power) - California Greenworks received a 2013 $45,000 grant to do an extensive grassroots outreach effort to spread information about energy efficiency and water conservation to LADWP customers in South Los Angeles.

  • Compton Creek Watershed Pollution Prevention Partnership Program – This first-of-its-kind watershed pollution prevention partnership is a two-year project sponsored by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, geared to raise community awareness of watershed pollution prevention. Polluted water and trash flowing into storm drains is the greatest danger to the well-being of birds and animals that live in the coastal wetlands drained by Compton Creek Watershed. The partnership provides a low impact solution by installing storm drain catch basins and screens preventing trash from entering the waterways.

  • Water Links! Urban Youth Watershed Education Program – An environmental education program that links the urban watershed to the ocean, targeted to the 5th grade student. This 4-week pilot program raises awareness for environmental stewardship, pollution prevention, and water conservation within the urban communities.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Green Vets LA and Homeboy Industries have both committed to working with California Greenworks in this effort.

Green Vets LA is a non-profit organization that is working with Veterans from the West Los Angeles VA Hospital to provide job training and work therapy to injured and non-injured and even homeless Veterans in a supportive environment. This program offers a wide variety of job trainings, including sewing reusable bags, and has helped Veterans successfully re-enter the work force upon returning from military service. www.greenvetsla.com

Homeboy Industries serves high-risk, formerly gang-involved men and women with a continuum of free services and programs, and operates seven social enterprises that serve as job-training site

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

The successful implementation of the whole of this pilot project will be measured in several ways:

1) The successful creation and distribution of 25,000 reusable shopping bags to lower-income communities for their use before the City’s plastic bag ban goes into effect, likely in early 2014. Having free shopping bags will allow lower-income families to shop without worrying about being impacted by having to pay themselves for reusable bags (in the absence of free, single-use plastic bags, or having to pay the 10 cent charge for paper bags, as mandated by the City’s single-use bag ordinance).

2) A successful pilot project will allow the incremental growth of this effort from 25,000 bags to 4 million bags.

3) California Greenworks will request a baseline electricity- and water-use reading from the LA Department of Water and Power in the City Council districts in which the bags will be distributed before and then after the bags (and therefore the energy efficiency and water conservation information) are distributed in order to track the effectiveness of the educational materials. Additionally, LADWP will be able track the number of customers who apply to their energy efficiency programs as a result of this pilot project to gauge its effectiveness toward the City’s overall energy efficiency goals.

4) The most important matrix by which California Greenworks will gauge the success of this program is the additional Vets and formerly-gang involved men and women who are hired to work at good, well-paying jobs in these supportive work environments.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?


Both Green Vets LA and Homeboy Industries provide good jobs in a supportive atmosphere to at-risk communities which need strong support. The Million Bag Giveaway pilot project will provide predictable workflow for both companies to make 25,000 reusable bags for 3 months as California Greenworks raises funds toward the eventual goal of giving away 4 million reusable bags, one for each resident of the City of Los Angeles. A fully-funded order for 4 million bags will then provide financial backing to create a stronger infrastructure for both companies to increase hiring from these two worthy at-risk communities, so that they might build out their reusable bag manufacturing infrastructure and prepare them to fill more orders in the future as plastic bag ban trend spreads from city to city across the United States.


The Million Bag Giveaway pilot project builds upon the environmental success of the City’s ban on single-use plastic bags by providing, free of charge, reusable bags for lower-income residents, so that everyone can celebrate the success of cleaning blight out of our neighborhoods and waste out of our rivers and oceans without being concerned about the 10 cent fee that will be charged at the grocery store for the use of single-use paper bags.


LADWP has announced its historic goal to move the City of Los Angeles completely off of coal power by 2025 and dramatically reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions well below 1990 levels. To accomplish that effectively, the City must meet robust energy efficiency goals among all communities. The project provides an educational pamphlet distributed within each bag, giving residents information and tips on LADWP-funded energy efficiency and water conservation programs, so that the environmental benefits to the City can be even larger while simultaneously shrinking utility bills for customers.


The Million Bag Giveaway Project will build a bridge of Social Connectedness and shared goals between two previously disparate communities who share similar challenges around assimilation and acceptance into mainstream society.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

In the best case scenario, by the year 2050, there will be no need for Green Vets LA and Homeboy Industries, as there will be no war, no gang violence and we will have become well-educated in being much improved stewards of our planet.

However, falling short of that, the successful outgrowth of the Million Bag Giveaway Project, by 2050, will result in Green Vets LA and Homeboy Industries both spreading into all fifty states, supporting combat veterans and formerly gang-involved men and women in a myriad of employment opportunities, which in turn help benefit the environment.

Energy efficiency and water conservation has increased to a level in 2050 where we live in a zero waste community. We use only clean technologies to power our homes and vehicles and thrive using only the water we collect that falls from the sky. Climate change has been mitigated to the point that its effects are only scarcely noticeable.

Single-use items, such as plastic bags, will have become a thing of the past, as, by 2050, all members of society have learned the environmental consequences of their daily habits and purchasing choices.

The current members of these two organizations – Green Vets LA and Homeboy Industries – who may only now, in 2013, be assimilating into the productive workforce, will grow into leadership roles, help lead both organizations and our great country into the year 2100.