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Plastic sacked

County supervisors vote to ban plastic bags

Posted: November 16, 2010 8:26 p.m.
Updated: November 17, 2010 4:30 a.m.
 

It’s the question all grocery shoppers are asked before shelling out their cash: paper or plastic?

But in a few months, that question may be a thing of the past.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 at a meeting Tuesday to ban plastic grocery bags at all supermarkets in unincorporated county areas. Officials said the ban will drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste in the county.

But Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents the Santa Clarita Valley, voted against the ban, saying it could put a financial burden on small mom-and-pop grocers that, unlike large groceries, don’t purchase bags in bulk.

And the bags are convenient to shoppers who use the bags to carry lunch to work and line their trash cans, he said.  

“At a time of economic uncertainty, with a large number of businesses leaving our state and community, this would not be the appropriate time to clean up the environment and impose regulation that could cost consumers and businesses to pay additional costs.”

The ban initially applies to supermarkets, pharmacies and conveniences stores. Shops making more than $2 million, or have more than 10,000 square feet of retail space, will have to stop using plastic bags by July 1. Smaller stores have until Jan. 1, 2012.

Fourth District Supervisor Don Knabe missed the vote because he did not attend the meeting.

Shoppers will still be able to take home their groceries in paper bags — for a fee of 10 cents per bag.

Ultimately, the change will cost shoppers $5.72 each year and save the county more than $4 million annually in the cost of cleaning up litter, according to county estimates.

The ordinance is modeled after legislation that attempted to ban plastic bags throughout California but failed to pass in Sacramento. A similar ban passed in San Francisco in 2007.

Officials are also encouraging cities in the county to pass similar bans.

Reducing the number
County officials have been trying to reduce the number of plastic bags used by county residents for years, said Gail Faber, the director of the county Department of Public Works. But voluntary recycling programs have had little effect in reducing the number of plastic bags being used by shoppers, she said at the meeting.

The ban should reduce plastic bag use in the county by half.

In 2007, more than 1,600 plastic grocery bags were used by the average county household — that number could drop to fewer than 800 bags by 2013, according to county documents.

Disposable plastic bags take hundreds of years to degrade and pose a danger to animals living in California’s oceans, said James Moffett, a biological science professor at the University of Southern California. 

“A lot of plastics look like certain types of jellyfish that vertebrate animals, like a turtle, would eat,” Moffett said. It surprises me that so few people recycle.”

Plastic soda-can rings, cigarette butts and Styrofoam packing peanuts all pose risks to animals and their habitats, he said.

Most plastic bags however, end up in landfills, he said, and while the ban is an important step, it will only be effective at cutting down waste if it’s coupled with aggressive plans to increase the amount of waste residents recycle.

How much trash do you make from the plastic bags you take home?” Moffett said. “How much are you putting into the bag?”

Meanwhile locallly
Residents shopping at a grocery store off The Old Road were split on the ban Tuesday: Some thought it would be a hassle to switch to canvas bags while others thought the move was wise.

Analisa O’Rullian said she has a few canvas bags at home, but she always forgets to bring them to the store. She has a drawer at her house overflowing with disposable plastic bags.

“We’re such a wasteful society, (the ban) would force us to be prudent,” the 49-year-old said. “I come (to the store) all the time, and they give me eight or nine plastic bags when they could give me three or four. It’s such a waste.”

Stevenson Ranch resident Heather Ritchman said the plastic bags are convenient: She uses the bags as trash-bin liners after she gets home from the supermarket.

The 39-year-old mother of three said she would switch to paper bags.

“I think (the ban) sucks,” Ritchman said, shaking her head. “It’s another expense. Why don’t they make a biodegradable bag?”

And while 60-year-old Bob Fern said he supports the plastic bag ban, he wasn’t going to start using canvas bags to carry his groceries. 

But why?

“It’s sissy. No can do.” the Newhall resident said. “I’ll pay the 10 cents and use paper.”

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