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In this 2011 file photos, customers of Ralphs supermarket use plastic bags to carry their groceries home in Glendale. Glendale was then considering a ban on the bags similar to the ban in unincorporated L.A. County.
On an 11-1 vote, the Los Angeles City Council approved a plan to phase out single-use plastic bags. After a final vote next week (and the mayor's signature), LA will be the largest American city to ban plastic bags at grocery stores, corner markets, and big-box retailers where groceries are sold.
The plan includes a 10-cent charge for paper bags and regulations regarding the types of reusable bags permitted.
According to Californians Against Waste, 76 other cities and counties in California have similar bans -- including Los Angeles County, San Francisco and Santa Monica. Last month, the California Senate rejected a bill that would have phased out use of the bags statewide. It's the fifth such bill to fail in the Senate since 2010.
Ban supporters say plastic bags litter cities and beaches and endanger wildlife. Manufacturers say the ban would cost jobs and harm the local economy.
That argument didn't persuade San Fernando Valley councilman Paul Krekorian, who noted that Sacramento has failed to act on the issue.
"Enough talking about this," Krekorian said. "Enough waiting for the legislature to take action. Let’s take a lead. The time to take action is today."
Even LA's powerful business lobby -- including the Chamber of Commerce, the Central City Association and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association -- has come to support the ban in recent years.
Chemical and plastics lobbyists have remained steadfast in their opposition to the ban, lobbying sanitation department officials as well as councilmembers. Board of Public Works Commissioner Steven Nutter said he has met with two local plastics companies opposed to the ban.
"Neither of those companies make grocery bags," he said. "We next had Crown Poly come in, and talk about their 300 jobs they had working in Vernon."
Emotional public testimony from Crown Poly employees slowed the council's move toward a ban more than a year and a half ago. "We asked ‘em, how many of those jobs were for making grocery bags for the city of LA," Nutter said.
The answer, says Nutter, is 15. Crown Poly churns out produce bags, unaffected by the council’s vote. And the company’s proprietary Hippo Bag is considered reusable, and therefore permissible in jurisdictions where single-use sacks are out like San Francisco. The Bureau of Sanitation’s Enrique Zaldivar argues that Crown Poly and others can shift resources to make compostable or reusable plastic products, or bags not covered by the ban.
"We know a plastic-making company can quickly retool," Zaldivar said. "We’ve seen it."
Plastic bag makers, some represented by the American Plastic Bag Alliance, are calling LA’s ban a tax, given the fees charged to customers who don't bring resusable bags with them. Councilman Bernard Parks agreed, voting against the prohibition.
Some of the councilmembers who gave the ban a nod say it comes with an economic upside, and not just for reusable bag makers. An EPA study found that California’s coastal cities spend upwards of 420 million dollars a year cleaning up debris. Krekorian says it’s not just plastic bags the council wants to keep from washing into the gutter– it’s money the city badly needs to help replenish its coffers.
The map below lists other areas in Southern California that have started or will start banning single-use plastic bags. No communities in San Bernardino or Riverside counties have passed a plastic bag ordinance. Click on each shaded area to read more about that municipalities' ordinance:
|All stores||Large stores only||Ban coming soon|
Source: Various municipalities