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L.A. County passes sweeping ban on plastic bags

Enacting one of the nation's most aggressive environmental measures, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to ban plastic grocery bags in unincorporated areas of the county.

The vote was 3-1, supported by Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Zev Yaroslavsky, and opposed by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. Supervisor Don Knabe was absent.

La-me-plastic-bags  The ban, which will cover nearly 1.1 million residents countywide, is to the point: “No store shall provide to any customer a plastic carryout bag.” An exception would be made for plastic bags that are used to hold fruit, vegetables or raw meat in order to prevent contamination with other grocery items.

If grocers choose to offer paper bags, they must sell them for 10 cents each, according to the ordinance. The revenue will be retained by the stores to purchase the paper bags and educate customers about the law.

“Plastic bags are a pollutant. They pollute the urban landscape. They are what we call in our county urban tumbleweed,” Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Mark Gold, president of the Santa Monica environmental group Heal the Bay, said previous county efforts to promote recycling of plastic bags at grocery stores was a failure.

“You cannot recycle your way out of the plastic bag problem,” Gold said. “The cost of convenience can no longer be at the expense of the environment.”

The measure is a significant win for environmental groups, which suffered a major defeat in Sacramento at the end of August with the failure of the state Senate to pass a sweeping plastic bag ban that won the support of the state Assembly and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger amid heavy and costly lobbying by plastic bag manufacturers.

But the ban could cause confusion. The action by the Board of Supervisors only covers the unincorporated areas of L.A. County, covering some neighborhoods like Altadena, Valencia and Rowland Heights, but doesn't cover 88 cities in L.A. County. City councils could adopt a similar ordinance.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich  raised the prospect that small mom-and-pop shops could suffer financially because they won’t be able to buy paper and reusable bags in great volume, and could force low-income people to buy bags to pick up pet waste or carry their lunch.

“At a time of economic uncertainty, with a large number of businesses leaving our state and community this would not be an appropriate time ... to impose this additional regulation,” Antonovich said.

Opponents of the ban told the supervisors that a legal challenge to the ban is still a possibility.

With the Tuesday vote, L.A. County’s measure is more stringent than similar bans adopted elsewhere in California, Gold said.  

San Francisco’s ban, which passed three years ago, is less restrictive because it still permits grocers to offer bioplastic bags made from corn starch, which are imperfect because they also do not degrade in the ocean, Gold said. Bans in San Francisco and Malibu also do not add a surcharge on paper bags, Gold said, which does not give consumers an incentive to switch to reusable cloth bags.

Washington, D.C., decided to tackle the issue not with a ban on any kind of bag, but a 5-cent surcharge per any item of disposable bag.

Gold, however, said an outright ban will be more effective on reducing the 6 billion plastic bags that are used in L.A. County every year, which according to the county, account for 25% of the litter picked up here.

Government figures show that just 5% of plastic bags are recycled.

Last week, the American Chemistry Council, one of the chief opponents of the ban,  warned L.A. County leaders that the proposed ordinance and fee on paper bags fall under the voting requirements of Proposition 26. The initiative, which passed this month, reclassifies most regulatory fees on industry as "taxes" requiring a two-thirds vote in government bodies or in public referendums, rather than a simple majority.

County Counsel Andrea Ordin said Tuesday that the 10-cent surcharge on paper bags is not a fee covered by Prop. 26 because the revenue is being kept by the grocers and not directed to a government agency.


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Photo: Laurie Gould of Pasadena shows her support for a ban on plastic bags during a meeting of the  L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (149)

Symbolism and tokenism at its worst.

What about plastic packaging? What about plastic bags for sale in grocery aisles, which residents of unincorporated neighborheads will be forced buy to line their waste bins and pick up their dogs' waste?

Frank, I hope you do get hit with a big tax penalty for moving your company out of California. It's people like you that are the cause of California's ills.

Really all they have done is authorize the waste of millions of dollars in legal fees for the county to now defend against the upcoming legal challenges. I alway re-use my plastic groc bags as small trash bags, now I can just buy a roll of small trash bags for less than 2 cents each and bring my own plastic bags to the store. Or put it on the store to replace ALL my damaged groceries when the milk leask (which it usually does, so I ask that it be bagged separately) once this lame idea starts costing stores hundreds a day in replaced damaged groceries Im thinking that big chain stores will be bringing suit.

This ban is not targeting everyone only those that live in unincorporated areas. Why? This is something that the voters turned down, why has the Stupervisors overturn the will of the people.

Once again one has to question whether your vote counts are not,

Now I'll just have to buy plastic liners for my couple little trash cans round the house. Is Glad or Hefty behind this ban?

Hopefully not everyone has become as stupid as you. I notice none of the tree huggers are on here crying about how many more thousands of trees per year will be turned into paper bags. I am sure it will start soon. Next up, the plastic on the shopping carts will become illegal. This will require shopping cart rentals and of course, rental insurance. Hey, this is California, you know this could happen!!!

I've been using canvas bags for a few years now and it's much easier to carry everything. They are more durable and stylish than plastic and the neighbors can't tell when you stock up on booze;) Good job, LA county.

Here's a work around from one of my co-workers. When you go grocery shopping, DON'T bring a reuseable bag(s) or pay 10 cents for a paper bag(s). Instead, when at the checkout, have them load all your groceries back into your shopping cart, then ask for assistance to your car. Keep a box in the trunk of your car and have them unload your groceries from the shopping cart into the box in your car trunk. When you get home, carry the box from your trunk to your home. Unload your groceries as usual. Return the box to your trunk for future use.-_-

Mandating is the only thing most people really understand. For law abiding citizens a conscious effort to comply is a great incentive to think ahead. The move toward renewable has only just begun.

@gnb: wow, i didn't read anything in what you quoted that states that mom & pop shops are only worried about profits. i believe it talks about the effects the ban will have on low-income individuals. additionally, what mom & pop shops are worried about is survival (in the face of big chain competition & price wars), which claims more importance, if you agree with maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Fantastic, they just reduced the amount of garbage floating around those parts of LA county by 25%. Think of how much money (and time) will be saved by not cleaning up silly bags.

When will we begin to act like responsible human beings. The things we should protest we don't and now we make a big fuss over this new decree.
I used to live in England and had to supply my own cloth bags at the grocers and it wasn't a big deal just a different way of doing things. Accept it here for what it is__trying to make things environmentally better for us all. Find something else to really complain about.

Oh, no! Not the plastic bag industry!

California's economy is doomed!!!

how much longer do the citizens of LA County have to suffer these Supervisors? Isn't it time we voted out Molina, Ridley-Thomas Yaroslavsky? This is such a poorly thought out ordinance, it exemplifies what these three people have done for the County.

I always use mesh cotton bags for my produce and big, nice weight permanent bags for my groceries. Ralphs gives me a nickle back for every bag I use. Saves a lot of hauling zillions of tiny plastic bags from my car to home and obviously keeps a zillion plastic bags from piling up in landfills. I have yet, in all my years of shopping, to see a single person using a reusable bag. This despite the fact that the stores have been trying to sell them for over a year now. One problem with them is that they are very small and don't hold much. I encourage people to go to the on-line reusable bag vendors. Huge selection and attractive prices. Some offer lifetime replacements should the bag break. People simply need to be forced away from plastic. It is in all our best interests, but without the mandate people are simply too lazy to ditch the plastic.

Love all the conservative whiners on here. "LA County bans plastic bags so I'm moving my business out of California!" Goodbye! One thing I've learned is don't bet against California, it's the comeback state.


One person said they use plastic bags to line their trash receptacle. Got new for ya... just empty it out daily and you won't need to buy MORE plastic bags just to hold a bunch of used cereal boxes and egg cartons. Fruits and veggie remains can go into the garbage disposal...that is why it is there. Stop being plastic centric! For gosh sakes, buy a long-lasting truly reuseable bag(s) on the internet "green stores" and save yourself a lot of grief.

Bunch of Cry Babies....
What on Earth did you do before paper bags? You managed!
Quit being so lazy... If you had disposed of the bags properly (?what ever that is?) You would not have this problem... Get on Board! or leave... too crowded anyway.
Go LA County!

Now, if only they would BAN DISPOSABLE DIAPERS!

I'm glad to hear there are no more serious problems facing Los Angeles County, so our supervisors can focus on such politically-correct, feel-good, inane trivia.

wow, I can't believe they got that passed! Maybe now we can go back to the old days of not seeing those darn bags trashing up our freeways, empty lots and city streets. I hope LA city passes something similar quickly so they can toss out the whole "unfair" usual reply. It's never a good time to pass anything that increases a cost, but the costs of cleaning up the roads and streets will go down so it may even save money in the long run. Not to mention the broken down pieces of those bags decay end up in our oceans and get swallowed by fish that mistake the tiny bits of plastic for food. How's that for a run-on sentence?

Love to hear the liter-bugs cry it will cause the world to end if we care about it.

Good riddance.

People are too lazy to even read the whole article. Example: Use the plastic bags for fruit to pick up your dog sh*t. "Durrr, I guess that makes sense?"

Once people have to pay for bags at the grocery store, they will buy a cheap cloth bag to collect groceries. Problem solved. Welcome to the industrialized world, select parts of Los Angeles.

I'm not usually a big fan of the Board these days but, I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised by this. Bringing in your own bags is really not that difficult and they're so much easier to carry because they're sturdier. Although, this ordinance really won't affect me because I don't live in the unincorporated areas, this sets a precedent for other communities to follow. I hope the City of LA is next.

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