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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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-- Rong-Gong Lin II at the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration 

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)

Dave, I'd be happy to buy you some reusable bags if you can't afford them. Besides, they give them away free every earthday. I'd be shocked if they didn't give many away free to help ease the transition.

When I was growing up, before plastic grocery bags, we used the paper grocery bags for our kitchen trash can. You had to be careful about wet spots on the paper bags when you took the trash out, but we survived. There was an excellent idea posted here by someone else who said to keep a box in you car to carry your items into the house, and to decline any bags at all. I think that was an excellent idea. There is more than one way to skin a cat. . . .

I hope the City of LA also passes this ban.

People freaking out over this need to "get a life". I deal with bags littering my yard all the time. It sucks. Unlike paper bags, you can't mix plastic bags with leaves for disposal - the plastic contaminates the compostable matter. They're gross, they get wet, and are a hassle to throw away.

I reuse my bags, but have way more than I ever need. I'm reusing them as bags, as plastic wrap, as gaskets, etc. And I still have more to recycle. It's stupid.

@Dave this would be a county ordinance which means Inglewood and Culver City would both be included along with city of L.A and all other municipalities in L.A County.

Thank god! Someone has a brain. You would think we had been using plastic bags from the dawn of time to read the comments. Perhaps some people from the Plastic industry? Folks remember plastic bags were introduced in stores in the 80s. Our ancestors did just fine till that point. You will survive and your children and grandchildren will wonder how we could have been so stupid as to use them in the first place.

I am all for this. I hope it becomes a county wide measure.

I recall when I either had paper bags or more often I took my own. 25 years ago or so, this was standard.

I totally object that people who put groceries in a bag put a single item in a bag. I was at Fresh N Easy yesterday and I bought 4 items, I noticed a woman packing my 4 items in 3 bags. Honestly, my bread and chicken do not need their own bag.

While carryout bags do have some merit, picking up dog poo and packing lunches, more often than not, they wind up littering up under my sink and then being discarded.

It's a start. There will be unintended consequences, but something has to be done. These things are made of oil. Get some reusable bags. They hold more and do not break.

Kudos to L.A. County for a brave and wise decision to move forward on a plastic bag ban.

California's waters are feeding grounds for at least four species of sea turtles, including the massive and critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. Plastic bags actually kill sea turtles, this has been well documented for many years.

To learn more and join efforts by the non-profit Sea Turtle Restoration Project start here http://seaturtles.org/article.php?id=1751

Thanks LA!

Many of these posts seem not to understand the great benefits of banning plastic bags in our cities, county and state. The idea behind the ban isn't to generate money for the stores with the 10-cent charge per paper bag, and the point isn't to do with the economy or employment rate, and we certainly aren't targeting Mom and Pop shops.

The point of banning plastic bags is because, as the article states, only 5% of plastic bags are ever recycled. Plastic bags, because they are not recycled, make their way into storm drains and pollute our waters (not just landfills), allowing animals to consume the bags (since in the water they look like jellyfish and other sea creatures). Animals such as those eat the bags, and because their head tells them that they have eaten, they do not eat the food that they actually need to survive. Or worst, they choke on or are strangled by the bags.

The posts below are looking very narrow-mindedly at this issue. There are so many complaints below regarding the cost for 10-cent bags, but the point is not that you should pay that money - the point is that you should buy a couple of reusable bags (they are very cheap, and easy to obtain in many places at no cost). The cost is merely a deterrent, not some crazy plan by the government to cost you more money.

I also have a response, in particular, to inbox1909 below. He posted: "Typical smoke and mirrors adding up to nothing. Banning bags in the poor, unrepresented, and unincorporated areas is a total failure of political will. Hey, why not Santa Monica? Tons of wealthy white people there, let them put their money where their big mouths are. Or Palos Verde? Or Malibu? Places where the residents can actually pay to reuse bags or pay for plastic?"

I work in Santa Monica, and we actually are attempting to ban plastic bags here. They have already been banned in Malibu. Single-use plastic bags are banned in China, Bangladesh and India. I repeat that the point is not that people in Santa Monica, or Malibu, or where ever you live can pay for the bags - this is an environmental issue. Rather than paying 10-cents per reusable bag, for a dollar or less you can find reusable bags that will last you years.

And to Carol, who stated: "How about we offer more convenient ways to recycle -- most multi-household/office buildings don't offer recycling so of course things will end up in the trash."

A little bit, I'm surprised regarding the response to this article. Isn't this option -- of using reusable bags what you are asking for -- exactly that, a convenient way to recycle? What is more convenient than having a bag or two or three that you use over and over when you do your shopping? It's not complicated. Leave the bag in your car or on your bike. There they are, ready to go when you need them. That's convenient.

And to Bag of Worms: how incredibly closed minded. We are thrilled to lose you and your business.

To Ed: the ban takes effect on July 1, 2011.

Brenden, riiiight, because they cannot possible handle more than one issue at a time.

Amazingly, not one person has even mentioned the GPGP (Great Pacific Garbage Patch) look it up, and even a liter-bug may get scared straight and turn into a tree-hugger. Unless they want the world to end and don't care what they leave behind for thier children and grandkids.

What has happened to this country that people whine and regect making any sacrifices for the better good? Lazy, lazy complainers.


I like the idea of banning plastic bags, so let's go another step and ban JUNK Mail, another waste.

I understand the reason for the ban on the bags, but I think there has to be another way to handle this. See Ikea, they tell you before you check out, hey you want a plastic bag its 5 cents or you can buy a reuseable bag. Now I have alot of reusable bags but never use them. Even for grocery stores. I reuse my plastic bags to take lunch and transport stuff. But I always take alot bag to the store for recyle.

Ok here is a crazy thought. If we pay a crv for cans,PLASTIC or glass bottles, etc, and we get something back when we recycle, then the same should be offered on the PLASTIC bags, we should get something back for recycling.

It is unfortunate that we cannot rely on our citizenry to properly manage their plastic bags. The problem is that we have way too many low-rent, uneducated people that think storm drains are some kind of automated garbage handling system. If it weren't for the losers abusing the plastic bag, we wouldn't need to have a ban... but we do.

Great news! Mom and Pop shops in Malibu have embraced being plastic-bag-free. Way to go LA County!

Unbelievable...don't people realize the process of producing a paper bag is more harmful to the environment than a Plastic Bag?

Does this mean you have to wait for all of your groceries to be packed into the paper bags before they can add up the additional bag charge and tell you the total bill? Grocery store shoppers already pay for receiving a plastic or paper bag; its callout overhead and added to the prices of items. Are they going to reduce the prices of all items since the consumers are now paying for the bags themselves? NO, what a waste LA!

Ok no more plastic bags so lets go kill some trees instead. Who the hell do these three idiots think they are?

This is a great stride in the right direction, even if it is not a perfect answer.

As far as people not being able to afford them, c'mon, that's a load of BS for several reasons. First, humans have survived for over a million years without plastic bags, even the poor. Reusable bags are a $1 a piece at many supermarkets; a one time investment of $6 is hardly out of reach for even the poorest. If it is, then they can invest $1 in a bunch of paper bags and hold them together with duct tape when they start to fall apart, or make their own reusable bags out of old cloth, or make reusable bags out of old cloth and sell them for profit. Just because a person is poor doesn't mean that person is stupid, unresourceful, and unable to survive without a free plastic bag.

As for it being expensive for businesses, that's BS because they are going to make money off of paper bags and pay nothing for plastic bags, and they're going to sell reusable bags. And they aren't going to lose customers because, if you are really too cheap to buy a few bags and are going to spend an extra $1 on gas to do your shopping elsewhere, then after just a few trips to the market you're already loosing money.

We need to be responsible, and we need to not be so lazy or stubborn that progress is unattainable. We are all perfectly capable of adapting to responsible ways of living, we just need to be willing to progress.

Antonovich and other people who use plastic bags to clean up after their dogs just don't get it: they're entombing the most biodegradable thing on the planet in a plastic sarcophagus that will never biodegrade.

I had to be educated to this very fact and now use only biodegradable bags for my dogs.

It won't effect me but I applaud the move. I have been using reusable bags for a few months now. Like others have said you can fit so much more in there and they are easy to carry. I can get 6-7 plastic bags worth of groceries in 2 reusable bags.

As a seagull owner, I can tell you first-hand the damage these plastic bags cause. I used to let my bird play with these plastic bags in the living room, but I learned the hard way how dangerous these bags were when his head would get tangled in the handles, causing him to flap and poop uncontrollably. Luckily, I was there to help Milo. Just think of all the birds who aren't as lucky as my Milo, who don't have an owner and someone to detangle them. Kudos to LA for tackling this issue. Bird owners accross the nation are flapping their wings in delight!

Cool. Now I get to spend my money to buy bags now instead. Need something to line my trash cans and dispose of misc. garbage around the house (sorry, paper bags won't do). My plastic bag consumption won't change because of this.

Thanks for forcing me to spend little that I have.

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