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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)

Oh my god. Is it that big of a deal? If you get 20 paper bags you will pay a whopping $2. That is sure going to break the bank. Plastic bags aren't good for the environment. I use reusable ones anyway.

I think it's rather funny that people are freaking out about 10 cents per bag. And who said plastic bags break down faster than paper bags? I don't think I've heard that one before. Maybe someone could break it down for me.

Why don't we pay people to recycle the bags like we do aluminum cans? Seems like if they paid a decent price for them by the pound people would want to make money picking them up and recycling them. Just an idea.

If poor people are too poor to buy a plastic bag to pick up their pooch's $hit...then maybe (just maybe!) they are too poor to OWN a DOG!

Ever think of that!?


I'm all for reusable bags but this is one dumb law. Why legislate the cost of bags for all businesses--as if they all pay the same rate? How dumb are these legislators....I think we should legislate that for every dumb piece of work they come up with, they individually owe everyone in the county $1.00.

Howabout that?

Am pretty sure O. Amaro has no clue what he/she/it is talking about.

The poorer areas are being hurt disproportionately. This is a regressive fee system. Good job supes.

That's all great! Meanwhile, Los Angeles is falling apart. What priorities! We deserve what we have.

I intend to burn my paper bags now out of spite

10 cents per paper bag that the stores will keep to buy more bags? Nice. How were they paying for the bags in the first place?

By the way, now that we feel good, have we calculated how much extra fuel will be used to make and transport these heavier paper bags to grocery stores in lieu of the lighter plastic bags and the probability that they won't be recycled unlike plastic bags that could be brought back to stores?

And nothing breaks down in landfills, at least once the materials are well buried. There is no oxygen down there.

To all the "Big Brother! What about the small stores, how will they survive?" comments I say this:

Isn't the theory behind Big Brother that he watches over and "provides" everything you "need?" Aren't you just looking for someone to take Big Brothers place to get your stuff out of a store when the solution is that you obviously do it yourself?

After all the horse manure in this last election, this is the LA County Board of Supervisors' response: make life harder for everyone, esp. small businesses? I use reusable bags and I believe in conservation. I do not believe in Santa Monica-style LALA land shove-it-down-your-throat garbage that may look awfully nice on some bureaucrat's resume, but remains onerous for the average business.

However, I'm sure the lawyers will get the gloves on and it will all end up in cour Welcome to LA politics in action. If it's stupid, they will pass it, then we all go play in the court system. *eyeroll*

Toronto put a 5 cent charge on plastic bags, and use dropped 70% almost instantly. Issue is that you still need plastic bags for garbage, etc. so now instead of using grocery bags for garbage people are buying kitchen bags. Use of plastic is down, but not by much. Costs to consumers are up. Retailers love making $$$ of bag fee and/or increased bag sales, pure profit from what was once a major expense.

One man's trash is anothers treasure...

While I looked at the lead-in photo of the person surrounded by plastic bags I saw them as raw materials. Those bags are so easy to be a viable part of a closed loop recycling sytem which is already in full operation right smack in the middle of LA County (in Vernon actually). I have been to this facility and have literally taken a double arm full of trashed plastic bags like those in the photo and in about 3 minutes turned them all into 100% recycled polyethylene resin which then was extruded into new bags and other products (another 15 minutes), all with very little energy and zero pollution. The problem we have with plastics is a social one, not an enviromental one. The infrastructure exists and is functioning in LA Country to be an example solution for the rest of the country if only we had leaders who are unbiased enought to be guided by and to make decisions based in fact and practical solutions for all.

I will continue to distribute recycled plastic and paper bags into LA County and the rest of the United States and as I do, will continue to support the complete facts both positive and negative and let my business customers make their own decisions.

R Meadows
NashvilleWraps/ GreenWay - Packaging with Purpose

seems simple to me.....bring your own bags......... everyone has them. seems the problem is laziness.

This is a great measure. Thank you! And, I hope one day it is adopted all over the world. I see some people are arguing against this, but we have to start somewhere, and I don't see it affecting consumers much, since its not really a big deal to buy couple of reusable green bags which can last for years (they don't event cost much). And, for the stores, I am glad they will make 10 cents per bag, so its a win-win.

Those of you who are saying about alternatives. There already ARE biodegradable plastic bags. Look up Trellis Earth. I've been buying bags from them for awhile now. Taco Del Mar uses their products at their restaurants. They're honestly NOT that expensive, and they fill the gap. We all should be doing our part in some way. We shouldn't HAVE to force any of this. It should just be happening. As a consumer, it is your responsibility to demand it in whatever way you can, choosing where you're shopping etc.

Okay, you three are enacting your power without understand the consequences. Today you ban plastic bags; tomorrow you will ban something else. You three should ban all salary increases in the County until we get out under the messes of over spending with so much deficits. Welfare programs should have a limit of months you can be on, spend time to review these messes to earn your salaries. No more travels out of the county and expensive luncheons and dinners on tax payers’ dollars.
Tomorrow you three will be banning plastic bottles and so on... Please use your heads and seriously think about what you are doing. Folks are still throwing out plastic and glass bottles on the streets, beaches, park, etc… with the CRV program. Who are we kidding Supervisors?

On the East Coast supermarkets and other stores have reuseable cloth bags.Its 5 cents per bag. Example:use 6 bags that is 30 cents off of your total bill. I bring my bags everytime I go to the suplermarkets. Every little bit helps.

LA Board of Supervisors,

Like most other shoppers, I use the plastic grocery bags to carry my groceries home. I do not drive...I walk to the store and back home.

Then I use the plastic bags for disposal of trash and garbage.

So now these idiots (Yaraslovsky, Molina and Ridley-Thomas) have decided they know more than most shoppers...and have mandated an idiotic law. Either that or they have some "hired help" do the shopping for them...and the Supervisors don't actually have to deal with the inconvenience of this lunatic piece of legislation.

It sounds like the City of Bell. Just ignore common sense...with total arrogance...and make dumb decisions...in this case to enrich the large grocery chains...at the expense and major inconvenience of consumers and small retailers ie their constituency. Total insanity!

California McDude

Show your support and pledge to STOP USING PLASTIC BAGS -

So those of us that reuse the bags to line our trash cans or carry our lunches in them will have to BUY more stuff to throw away. Isn't the slogan "Reduce. REUSE, Recycle" ? I can see what the idea behind this movement is prefaced upon, but this is not the answer.

banning plastic bags is so right. Everyone should start using reusable bags for groceries and other shopping stuffs. This will do good for the environment.

hope a lot more cities follow this.

Aloha from Maui County where we have a plastic bag ban ordinance going into affect on 1/11/11. We have spent months researching the best prices for 100% recycled, post-consumer waste bags with handles and can offer this information to you. Let us hear from you! It has been a huge event finding these bags for low prices to supply the merchants of Maui County. You'll need to know this if you're a merchant in LA County! Love to hear from you.

Come on city council, back up your board of supervisors, this is only a hot issue until people get used to it, and the world will be a better place for it!

I am not understanding why everyone is so upset about the 10¢ charge for paper. The are giving you the incintive to bring your reuseable bags in with you at no cost to anyone. The only thing that has to change is a personal habit. Is that what we are worring about?

I appreciate your post, i learn few things in this post, I have book marked this internet site so ideally I’ll see much more on this subject in the foreseeable future!
Bag Manufacturers

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