Shoppers in Santa Monica need to dig out that reusable grocery bag in the bottom of their junk drawer as the city has finally joined a number of cities and unincorporated parts of Los Angeles County in banning plastic bags at grocery stores.
The ban applies only to those shopping bags with two handles that are used in grocery stores, while the produce bags that shoppers have to unroll are considered safe to use because it does less damage.
Grocery stores may offer paper bags as an alternative but they must be made of at least 40 percent recycled material and cost customers 10 cents per bag.
Assemblymember Julia Brownley, who is pushing on a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags, said that this is the first step in the right direction for a state whose residents throw away about 16 billion plastic bags a year.
"I look forward to the day when plastic bags stop swirling around our feet in the waves, and no longer mar our beaches or kill marine life," she said.
The Santa Monica City Council approved the bag ban, officially known as the Single-Use Carryout Bag Ordinance, in January, and although the law took effect in March, enforcement began earlier this week.
This ban comes a year after California lawmakers rejected a statewide ban on plastic bags, claiming the extra financial burden on consumers and businesses that would need to buy paper bags.
"If we pass this piece of legislation, we will be sending a message to the people of California that we care more about banning plastic bags than helping them put food on their table," State Sen. Mimi Walters told the Los Angeles Times in 2010.
However, Brownley said it costs the state $25 million a year to clean up plastic bag trash and they take 1,000 years to break down.
Although the city of Los Angeles has no plans to pass a bag ban, Santa Monica has joined communities of Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Altadena, La Crescenta, Topanga Canyon, Marina del Rey, Baldwin Hills, Athens, Willowbrook, Florence, Rancho Dominguez, Calabasas, East Pasadena, Malibu and East Los Angeles.
For those residents who believe this ordinance is more of an inconvenience than an environmental necessity, here is a quick tip: keep reusable grocery bags in your car for those planned and unexpected trips to the store. That way you're 10 cents richer while helping keep the oceans and landfills clear.
Aja Dang is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.
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