Los Angeles answers “Paper or plastic?” for you

150 150 Matthew Grant Anson

After hemming and hawing over the issue for years, the city of Los Angeles took the major step on Monday of approving a ban on plastic bags in supermarket checkout lines, making it the largest city in the United States to do so. 

The decision to slowly phase the bags out over the next 16 months, which came via a 13 to 1 City Council vote, sees the city following in the footsteps of Los Angeles County, Long Beach, Santa Monica and several other municipalities that have already placed bans or restrictions on plastic bags in the last five years. 

Councilman Paul Koretz was the main supporter of the ban. “This day has been a long time in coming,” Koretz told the San Jose Mercury News. “This is a historic vote making Los Angeles the biggest city in the nation in doing away with an environment problem.” 

While the ban has been hailed by environmental groups, those focused on the city and state’s bottom line may find their own reason to rejoice. Only 5% of bags in California are recycled, resulting in L.A. County spending $24 million in cleanup and disposal of litter in 2009. Caltrans District 7 collected 50,000 cubic yards of litter and debris in 2006, to the tune of $12 million. Long Beach estimates that it spends $2.2 million every year cleaning up marine litter.

The demonization of plastic bags over the last decade isn’t limited to the U.S. Bangladesh banned plastic bags completely in 2002, and Ireland set a 22-cent tax on the bags in the same year. Since the tax was put into place, Ireland has seen a 90 percent drop in the use of plastic bags. 

And those who assume the same dramatically reduced rates can’t be replicated in California need look no further than Los Angeles County. Since L.A. County’s approval of a 10-cent fee per bag in the unincorporated areas of the county, there’s been a 94% decrease in the use of the plastic bags since the tax was put into place. 

However, not everyone is pleased with the city’s decision. Plastic bag manufacturers have warned that the ban would force them to lay off workers, and employees wearing shirts saying “Don’t Kill My Job” pleaded unsuccessfully with the Council not to vote in favor of the ban. The lone dissenting vote came from Councilman Bernard Parks, citing a lack of information over the supposed health risks of reusable bags.

While plastic bag manufacturers may feel the crunch, the ban should come as no surprise. Several cities have been moving in the direction of restrictions and bans, and Governor Schwarzenegger even attempted to have a state-wide ban put into place before being shot down by the Legislature. 

Had companies innovated and adapted when the writing was on the wall several years ago, they and their employees would not be members of what seems to be a dying industry. Californians are demanding fiscal responsibility from their government, and for plastic bag companies to expect state and local governments to continue footing million dollar bills over a harmful product while holding jobs hostage flies in the face of not only good government, but good business. 


Matthew Grant Anson

All stories by: Matthew Grant Anson