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UPDATE: L.A. County Bans Plastic Bags

Kristen Villarreal |
November 16, 2010 | 11:13 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Update: The Los Angeles County Board Of Supervisors passed the plastic ban by a 3-1 vote, meaning shoppers in unincorporated areas of the county will no longer receive plastic bags to take home their purchases.

Campaigners for the plastic bag ban, photograph by Kristen Villarreal
Campaigners for the plastic bag ban, photograph by Kristen Villarreal


A colorful crowd gathered Tuesday morning in front of the Los Angeles Hall of Administrators in which the county Board of Supervisors would vote to ban plastic bags in unincorporated areas

"We are here today to promote outreach and awareness. Our long-term goal is to stop single-use plastic bags," said Nancy Hastings of the Surfrider Foundation.

Thousands of plastic bags lined the walkway to the front doors of the building. Several people in plastic bag suits, referred to during the rally as 'bag monsters', stood in the crowd, held signs and chanted with other campaigners. "Yes we can" and "Hey, hey, ho, ho, plastic bags have got to go," they shouted.

Campaign leaders, supporters and members of the Board of Supervisors gave short, empowering and positive speeches at a podium set up in front of the steps to the building. 

"The LA river looks like a trash dump. That has to stop, and it has to stop now," said Mark Gold, president of the nonprofit organization Heal the Beach.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky referred to the plastic bag as the urban tumbleweed and went on to say that bags degrade the quality of life in LA County. 

"Let LA County be the first, let them lead. Today we'll do just that," Yaroslavsky said. 

Long time supporter and author of the bag ban ordinance (AB 1998) Assemblywoman Julia Brownley reminded the crowd that the ban on plastic bags is not just a Californian fight. Countries including China and Bangladesh have similar bans.   

Under the legislation, supermarkets, large retail stores, liquor stores and food marts will not have plastic bags available in any locations within the unincorporated area of Los Angeles County. Shoppers would be expected to bring reusable bags to fill. If a reusable bag is forgotten, the stores would offer reusable bags for purchase or 10 cent paper bags. Proceeds from the 10 cent paper bags would go to costs associated with complying to the terms of the bag ban ordinance such as the providing of paper bags or campaigns to promote the use of reusable bags. 

"Nothing we use for five minutes should last 500 years," said actress and environmentalist Amy Smart.

Campaigner Tim Martinez said he can't take a walk anywhere without seeing plastic bag trash. He came to Tuesday's rally because he was "ready to stop complaining and to become part of the solution," he said

'Bag Monster' at the rally for the bag ban ordinance, photograph by Kristen Villarreal
'Bag Monster' at the rally for the bag ban ordinance, photograph by Kristen Villarreal
According to Heal the Bay's website, Californians use more than 19 billion plastic grocery and merchandise bags each year. This averages out to about 552 bags per person and generates approximately 150,000 tons of waste a year. 

A major concern for Heal the Bay is the effect plastic pollution and littering has on marine life. An estimated 60 to 80 percent of all marine debris is plastic. Marine animals eat plastics, mistaking them for food and are unable to digest them. Animals can starve to death as a result. 

The bag ban ordinance previously made it through the state Assembly and several Senate committees but it stopped when the California state Senate failed to pass the the bill on Aug. 31, 2010. Controversy arose between California leaders who had conflicted views on the ban. 

From Brownley in a press release after the legislation failed in August: 

“This is a sad day for California,” Assemblywoman Brownley said. “Communities across the state were waiting for the state to adopt a uniform, statewide ban on single-use bags before they adopt their own ordinances. The state failed them. But, this is an environmental movement that won’t be stopped, even by big-money interests like the American Chemistry Council. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when consumers bring their own bags and become good stewards of the environment.”

According to the same press release, Californians spend $25 million a year to collect and dispose of many of the 19 billion single-use plastic bags used by the state each year. 

From The American Chemistry Council's press release after the failed legislation: 

“We congratulate Senate members for discarding a costly bill that provides no real solutions to California’s litter problem and would have further jeopardized California’s already strained economy,” said Tim Shestek, senior director of State Affairs for the American Chemistry Council.

“Plastic bag makers look forward to working with grocers, legislators and environmental groups to develop workable, effective legislation that enables consumer choice, promotes recycling education and encourages a healthy environment and economy,” Shestek said.

The American Chemistry Council suggested the bag ban would only add to California's unemployment numbers if passed. 

Andy Keller, a campaigner present at Tuesday's rally, said the passing of the bag ban ordinance would create green jobs for the unemployed. California has more reusable bag companies than any other state in the country, he said. 


To reach reporter Kristen Villarreal, click here.



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