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L.A. puts proposed plastic-bag ban on hold until January

December 16, 2011 |  5:00 pm

Roger Blanco heads to his car with his groceries in earlier this year as customers and grocers at Albertson's in Hacienda Heights began adjusting to a plastic bag ban that went into effect on July 1 in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

A proposed ban on carryout shopping bags in Los Angeles was delayed on Friday as city lawmakers asked for further studies on the economic impact of such a move.

The information they get back will help determine the details of the measure -- namely whether it will ban all single-use shopping bags or follow the lead of many cities and counties across the state that prohibit plastic bags but still allow stores to sell paper ones for a small fee.

Support for some kind of bag ban appears to be strong on the City Council. Several members pledged Fridy to get the measure passed before March 31.

But Councilman Richard Alarcon said the city should have enacted the ban long ago.

"It is a shame that we can't drive public policy, as opposed to leading from behind all the time," he said.

An estimated 2.3 billion plastic bags and 400 million paper bags are used in the city each year, according to the Bureau of Sanitation. Only 5% of the plastic bags and 21% of the paper bags are recycled. Supporters of the ban say the rest end up in landfills and or in nature. 

The environmental group Heal the Bay -- which has been lobbying Los Angeles officials to enact a ban since 2007, when San Francisco became the first city in the nation to do so -- says plastic bags are among the worst pollutants of the sea. Councilman Paul Krekorian, who co-sponsored the ban, on Friday called bags "a scourge that's destroying our oceans."

Krekorian, who believes L.A.’s actions could spur a statewide ban, said he wants the measure passed by March 31, before the state Legislature’s spring break.

Last year, a proposed state ban on plastic bags died in the Legislature. It was supported by the California Grocers Assn., which has grumbled about a city-by-city patchwork of rules that forces them to follow different rules in different places, but opposed by the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying group that represents the plastics industry.

The group mantains that paper bags are just as bad for the environment because of the energy required to produce them. Others have pointed out that even producing reusable bags takes an environmental toll. Bag manufacture Crown Poly, which is located in Vernon, said the ban would threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of employees.

Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose Energy and Environment Committee considered the ban Friday, said she is not yet convinced that a ban that includes paper bags is the best move for the city. She asked the Chief Legislative Analyst and the City Administrative Officer to report back in thirty days on the potential cost of several scenarios, including a ban on both types of bags, a ban only on plastics and the possibility of charging a fee for paper bags.

Perry also requested that the Bureau of Sanitation craft a 60-day plan to inform stores and community members about coming changes.

City officials also appear weary of potential legal ramifications of a ban.

Many cities and counties across the state have enacted bans in recent years, including Los Angeles County, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu. Several of them, including L.A. County, have faced legal action as a result, said Karen Coca, who heads the Bureau of Sanitation's recycling division.

Manhattan Beach was sued on the basis of inadequate environmental review, Coca said, but she said the California Supreme Court had held up the ban.

Los Angeles has yet to conduct an environmental review.

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-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

twitter.com/katelinthicum

Photo: Roger Blanco heads to his car with his groceries earlier this year as customers and grocers at Albertsons in Hacienda Heights began adjusting to a plastic bag ban that went into effect on July 1 in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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