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Draft Environment Report Out for Plastic Ban Ordinance, Public Comment Sought

Plastic bags are a modern-day convenience that can all too easily be abused. A quick inspection of many kitchen cabinets (including mine) reveals just how much we use without a second thought. In the near future, shoppers in Los Angeles would need to be more circumspect as the plastic ban ordinance is now making its way to full approval and implementation.

The Bureau of Sanitation has just completed its draft environmental review of the single-use plastic bag ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council last May 23, 2012. As one would expect, the review found no adverse effects on the environment from implementing the ban as proposed. It even found that the use of paper bags decreased alongside plastic bags in the longer term.

Preliminary data, as submitted by stores in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles following the implementation of the county's single-use plastic ban July 2011, revealed a reduction of 34 percent in paper bag use between 2009 and 2012. The ordinance, which is only in effect for the county's unincorporated areas, charges a 10-cent fee on each paper carryout bag. The data also showed a 13 percent reduction within the first three quarters.

Updated data from September 2012 showed that paper bag use declined 16 percent since the ban went into effect. While this piece of good news is surprising, the bureau notes that the data only constitutes about 3 percent of survey respondents.

In May 2012, the City Council gave the go-ahead to explore projects that would ban single-use carryout bags in retailers throughout the city. The approval made Los Angeles the largest city in the nation to implement a plastic bag ban in supermarkets. It was a major coup for environmentalists looking to curb the use of plastic bags that continually clog the county's waterways.

In full implementation, retailers would phase out their stock of plastic bags and charge 10 cents for each paper bag. There are certain exemptions from the ordinance, including department stores, pharmacies, restaurants and farmer's markets. With the ban firmly in place, the city hopes to make a dent on over 20 billion single-use plastic bags used in just a year, many of which end up in landfills.

Not everyone is thrilled with the proposed ordinance however. Community impact statements submitted by the Encino and Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Councils in San Fernando Valley both opposed the ordinance. The Encino council cited health reasons for their concern. "Most (97%) of reusable bags are never washed in hot soapy water to eliminate bacteria," writes the council in their statement. It is a figure also echoed in the draft environmental review. The simple solution? Remember to wash those re-usable bags.

This reminder, along with other tips, have also been incorporated within the city's informational campaigns conducted with Heal the Bay, Keep California Beautiful, Keep Los Angeles Beautiful, participating neighborhood and city councils, in the hopes of slowly but surely changing our shopping habits. "The challenge, as it is in the introduction of any new ordinance, will be the learning curve in its implementation," said Jimmy Tokeshi at the Department of Public Works.

It is difficult to cure one's own I forgetfulness when it comes to re-usable bags, but it seems Los Angeles is slowly adapting its ways. More and more, I see people carrying their reusable bags to the supermarkets -- ban or no ban. Now, we just have to get used to adding those same bags in our laundry wash.

The draft report is available for review until March 13. The full documentation is available here. The following public meetings have been scheduled:

Please direct any comments to Karen Coca, Division Manager, Solid Resources Citywide Recycling Division/Bureau of Sanitation at 1149 S. Broadway, 5th Floor, Mail Stop 944, Los Angeles, CA 90015.


Top: Photo by jerseysam used under a Creative Commons license.

About the Author

Carren is an art, architecture and design writer and an avid explorer of Los Angeles. Her work has been spotted on Core77, Dwell, Surface Asia, and Fast Co.Design. You can find her online and on Twitter. 
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