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Lynne Plambeck: SoCal sacks plastic. Where is our city?

Environmentally Speaking

Posted: May 31, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 31, 2012 1:55 a.m.

It’s definitely a movement. Cities and counties all over the world from China to San Francisco are banning plastic “throw away” bags.

People think of plastic bags as being free. But actually, they cost taxpayers millions every year.

Before its ban, San Francisco officials estimated the city spent $8.5 million annually cleaning up plastic bag litter. That equates to roughly 17 cents for every bag distributed in the city.

It is no wonder San Franciscans were early advocates of banning the bags.

Additionally, according to Californians Against Waste:

n It costs the state $25 million annually to discard plastic bags in landfills.

n Public agencies in California spend in excess of $303 annually in litter abatement.

n Southern California cities have spent in excess of $1.7 billion in meeting total maximum daily loads for trashed in impaired waterways.

n Cities and recyclers spend incalculable amounts removing plastic bags from their recyclables stream, where they jam machinery and add to the manual-labor costs of recycling.

Plastic bags kill wildlife and sea animals that ingest the plastic, thinking it is food. It lodges in their digestive systems, eventually causing starvation.

Plastic bags are usually oil-based products. Their manufacture creates air pollution that adds to global warming and uses up precious petroleum resources inefficiently and unnecessarily.

Last year, Los Angeles County followed the lead of San Francisco by banning the bag at grocery and other large retail stores in county areas, including unincorporated parts of the Santa Clarita Valley.

According to the new ordinance, customers may bring their own bags or will be charged 10 cents for paper bags made from recycled materials. Funds raised from this charge can only be used to offset the cost of those recycled bags or to educate customers on this issue.

The new ordinance survived a legal challenge brought by the plastic bag industry this March, when a court ruled that the fee charged was not a tax, since it didn’t benefit the county.

Last week, the city of Los Angeles passed a bag ban based on the county ordinance. With this ordinance, the city of Los Angeles joined others throughout the world in efforts to reduce the wasteful practice of one-use throw-away bags.

But where is our city on this issue?

If each of Santa Clarita’s approximately 60,000 families uses five bags a week, that’s 300,000 bags, or 15.6 million bags a year, from our community alone.

According to Californians Against Waste, only an estimated 1 percent to 4 percent of the 15 billion plastic bags used each year in California are recycled, so most of those 300,000 bags end up in a local landfill.

SCOPE first promoted a “Bring Your Own Bag to the Grocery Store” campaign starting in 1993 when it joined the city and several other organizations to stop Elsmere Canyon from becoming a massive landfill.

The idea was that if we didn’t want a landfill in our own back yard, we had to “walk the walk” and reduce our local generation of garbage.

However, once this issue disappeared and Elsmere seemed to be safe, many folks forgot the good habits they had learned.

Now the city and the county routinely approve large new housing projects like Newhall Ranch and Vista Canyon with “over-riding considerations” for solid-waste disposal. In layman’s terms, this means that it is more important to have the housing project than to worry about where the trash will go.

How can the city make such a finding when it has refused to take one of the simplest steps to reduce trash generation in Santa Clarita — banning the plastic bag?

Last year, we urged the city to move forward quickly with an ordinance comparable to the one that is now in place in the county areas. The council wanted to wait until the court challenge was resolved.

That hurdle is now past. Will our city, crusaders against new landfills in the ’90s, be the last on the block to make a real change to reduce trash?

Individual action always makes a difference, too. Just be a part of the solution and bring your own bag to stores in the city area. It’s easy to just stick a few bags under your car seat so they are there when you need them.

Lynne Plambeck is a Santa Clarita Valley resident and president of Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment.


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