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LA's ban on plastic bags moves closer to reality (updated)

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Plastic bags at Los Angeles grocery stores would be a thing of the past under a proposal preliminarily approved today by the Los Angeles City Council – making it the closest the city has even been to a full ban on single-use bags. 

The council voted 13-1 to start the legal footwork needed to ban single-use plastic bags. If the ban is eventually approved, it would give a six-month grace period to grocery stores that are 10,000-square-feet in size or have at least $2 million in sales. Smaller stores would have one year to put the ban in place. 

Under the proposal, paper bags would cost 10 cents a piece one year after the ban is implemented. After two years, city staff would return with a report on the effectiveness of reducing waste from single-use bags. 

The ban would only apply to grocery stores and would not include the smaller plastic bags patrons use for fruits, vegetables and meats. 

An environmental report on the issue is expected to take four to six months to complete. When it is complete, the city attorney will return with an ordinance to implement the ban. Los Angeles would be the largest city to adopt a ban on plastic bags.

Today’s vote caps four years of work, debate and discussion on the issue of banning plastic bags. In 2008, the city council approved a Bureau of Sanitation report that called for banning single-use bags by Jan. 1, 2010. In September of 2010, the city council again called for a plan on implementing a citywide ban on plastic bags.

Last fall, the Board of Public Works recommended the city ban both plastic and paper bags.

“It costs us millions and millions of dollars to clean these bags up each year,” said Councilman Eric Garcetti. “They blow all over our neighborhoods. They come into the ocean, into the river, into our lakes and all of our bodies of water.” 

The issue of whether to ban single-use plastic bags brought an overflowing crowd to City Hall’s Council Chamber. Before the vote, council members and environmentalists held a rally that featured supporters dressed as garbage heaps and reusable bags. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who sits on Heal the Bay’s board of directors, was the first speaker at the public hearing.

Councilman Bernard Parks was the dissenting vote. He cited health concerns as a reason to conduct further study on the issue.

“Are we moving the plastics issue into a health issue, and 10 years from now (are) we going to be talking about people dying because they didn’t wash their (reusable) bags?” Parks said. 

Angelenos use 2.7 billion single-use plastic bags every year, according to Andrea Alarcon, president of the Board of Public Works. 

Similar bag bans are in place in Manhattan Beach, West Hollywood, Calabasas, Long Beach and parts of unincorporated Los Angeles County.

Late into the two-hour hearing, Councilman Tom LaBonge expressed his support for the ban in simple terms, telling the audience, “I wanted to be a fireman in 1974. I took the test and failed it but before I took the test for a fireman, I wanted to be a trash man because I hate trash.” 

This post has been updated.

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