When it first came out in 1999, "American Beauty" was the movie everyone could find something to relate to. If you were a casual middle-aged filmgoer, you understood the mentality of a mid-life crisis. If you were a pretentious teen, you "got" the brooding from Thora Birch's character. And if you were an art-house critic, you could get into the carefully-honed imagery and puzzle-like narrative structure. It's no wonder, then, that the movie took home a whole bunch of Oscars.
But as the years go by, the sense of immediate relatability that the film had has been partially lost. In our post-recession landscape, who can legitimately entertain quitting high-paying careers for a gig at the local burger franchise? And how did these people get by without the Internet at their fingertips? But most of all, who, just who, actually believes that a floating plastic bag is "the most beautiful image" in the world?
It's terrible litter, people!
- The average consumer uses about 500 single-use plastic bags a year, if they don't have a reusable bag.
- Each use lasts a mere 12 minutes before they're flung into the trash.
- Only 5% of bags are recycled.
- On top of that, it costs California city governments a total of $300 million annually to pay for trash pick up.
Luckily, legislators have gotten the message and begun, slowly but surely, banning plastic bags around the state. The latest ban goes into effect in West Hollywood on Tuesday, August 20th.
This is the second phase of the city's two-step banning process, forcing all retail stores and supermarkets to get rid of their plastic bags. (The first phase took place back in February, but only covered large supermarkets of "at least 10,000 square footage;" the two-phases, six-months-apart approach is the common method of banning throughout the state.) That said, there will be exceptions made for dry cleaners, farmers' markets, restaurants who provide bags for take-out orders, and lightweight bags used for transporting raw meat. But for the most part, waltz into West Hollywood on August 21st expecting to find a plastic bag, and you'll be sorely disappointed.
And the ban doesn't stop at plastic. If customers want to go the paper bag route at grocery stores, they'll be able to, but will be charged 10 cents a pop at the register. (Those customers who qualify for subsidized groceries will be exempt from that charge.) In other words, you best make sure your car is stocked with reusable bags before heading out for groceries.
West Hollywood is just the latest L.A.-area city that's taken efforts to cut down on single-use plastic bag usage. Malibu, Long Beach, Calabasas, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Manhattan Beach, Pasadena, and Santa Monica have all enacted similar laws already. The city of Glendale just got through phase one of the banning process (forcing large supermarkets and farmers' markets to cease bag activity on July 1st), with the second-phase expansion coming on the first day of 2014. The city of L.A. proper, meanwhile, just approved a similar bit of legislation in June, with large supermarket bag banning taking place in January of 2014 and the second-phase expansion coming in July.
These are all just a small listing of the plastic bag bans being enacted throughout the state at large. In California, 58 different ordinances have been passed, affecting 79 different cities or counties in the Golden State. (San Francisco led the nation as the first city to ban bags, it should be noted, way back in April of 2007.) Plastic bags are on the way out, whether you're ready for it or not.
At the current rate of legislation being passed, in fact, it isn't hard to envision a future where a kid finds an old, battered VHS copy of "American Beauty," watches it in whatever portable 6-D virtual reality viewing device he has, gets to the part with the floating bag, and has to ask the nearest adult, "what is that thing?"
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