After four years of debate and discussion, the Los Angeles City Council approved a ban on plastic bags at Los Angeles grocery stores.
The council voted 13-1 Wednesday to phase in the ban of plastic bags over the next 12 months in grocery stores with $2 million in sales or 10,000 square-feet in size. Councilman Bernard Parks was the only council member to vote no. He said he was concerned that the decision sounded better than it might turn out.
"I just don't think that, in creating good public policy, you impose something without understanding the aftereffects. If we just take a step back and realize as the runaway train in the city went forward with getting rid of paper bags years ago and creating plastic ... it was saving the trees," Parks said. "Years later, no one had thought about what plastic is going to do, and now the same people that wanted to get rid of paper now are saying get rid of plastic."
Parks said that possible health issues were overlooked during the assessment of the plastic bag ban proposal. He added that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention consistently asserts that foods should not comingle. Reusable bags could become a hassle for those who don't own washing machines, or have enough bags to separate like goods.
"You begin to think about the bacteria, and the stories we've seen just in using a knife to cut chicken and moving it into another product, the disease gets carried," he continued. "All of a sudden now we're going to be saying to individuals that shop, 'You're going to have a meat bag, you're going to have to have a grocery bag, you're going to have a vegetable bag, a fruit bag.'"
Los Angeles Councilman Eric Garcetti backed the ban. He said such a move would help the city reduce the $16 million spent a year towards cleaning up plastic bags in the city of L.A. Garcetti said he thinks Los Angeles will adapt well to the change.
"Before the mid 1970s, we lived well without plastic, single use bags for shopping. There weren't epidemics; it wasn't the end of the world. We've seen in many small cities ... that we are not only able to not only adapt, but go back to what was very successful for years."
He went on to say that the new legislation will be tailored to fit city needs. Low income areas would have an exemption on the 10 cent fee for paper. "No matter what part of the city you're in, whether it's a big store or a small store, this will be sustainable for the stores," he asserted.
Garcetti acknowledged the concern some people showed about job loss. He said he hopes that the ban will incentivize new green jobs. "On the other side of the aisle, we had a group that hires veterans ... who stitched together some of the bags that we can reuse, and those are great, new, forward-looking green jobs."
The councilman added that he hopes the project parallels the green building ordinance passed in 2008. "New restrictions on how you build things also provided a whole new industry, and we think that this can happen with plastic bags, moving towards reusable bags as well," he concluded.
Parks said the council has sent mixed messages on the jobs front. "Here's a council that continually says they want to be business friendly. And yet we find that almost indiscriminately we say, 'Well, just retool your factory. So what if you lost a portion of your business?'"
He recalled the number of people that attended the council meeting split evenly on both sides.
"The people from the industry that said leave the bags alone are actually those that are impacted by the change. Most that spoke from other side were those who were from Heal the Bay and a variety of organizations that deal with environmental issues, but were not folks in industry," he described.
Parks noted that he backs certain issues addressed in the ban, but he thinks there are better ways to tackle those problems.
"We have educated the public on recycling in this city to where I think we are now recycling 60 to 70 percent of the trash that we pick up. We do much better in educating people on how to deal with this than to enforce against it."
Yesterday’s vote begins a four-month environmental review process followed by a vote on the ordinance. Large stores would have six months to put the ban into effect while smaller ones would have a year to phase out the use of plastic bags. One year after the ban is in place, stores will be required to charge 10 cents for paper bags.
Are you ready to give up your plastic bags when you grocery shop LA?
Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Councilman
Bernard Parks, Los Angeles City Councilman