Los Angeles moved a step closer to a sweeping ban on single-use plastic and paper bags Wednesday as the city's Board of Public Works unanimously approved a report urging the mayor and city council to adopt a citywide ban on the bags.
The board voted 4-0 to endorse the ban on single-use bags and directed the Bureau of Sanitation to begin the environmental review process required under state rules. It also requested a draft ordinance from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.
In a 14-page report that will be forwarded to the mayor and city council, the Bureau of Sanitation estimated the ban would begin in September 2012.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a similar ban on single-use plastic bags in November for retailers in unincorporated parts of the county. The ban started July 1 for supermarkets and will kick in Jan. 1, 2012, for liquor stores and convenience markets.
Other municipalities in California that have passed single-use plastic bag bans include San Francisco, Santa Monica, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Calabasas and Long Beach.
Issue Six Years in the Making
Plastic bag litter has been an issue at City Hall since 2004, when a task force was created to fight the amount of single-use plastic bags in the city's waterways. In January 2008, the City Council adopted a policy statement with the goal of banning plastic carryout bags starting in January 2010.
City Council members Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian in September introduced a motion directing the Bureau of Sanitation to create an implementation plan for a single-use bag ban that would include both plastic and paper bags.
An estimated 1.2 billion to 2.3 billion single-use plastic carryout bags—and 400 million single-use paper bags—are used annually in Los Angeles. The board's report said studies have shown that single-use paper bags contribute to greater greenhouse gas emissions through both their production and use than single-use plastic bags—a factor behind the board’s recommendation for banning the paper bags.
The suggested ordinance would require retailers to provide customers with reusable bags for sale or free of cost. Produce bags to carry meats and produce in the store will still be allowed.
Board Hears Testimonies From Activists and Workers
The board's commissioners voted after listening to more than two hours of testimony from workers at County plastic bag manufacturing plants as well as environmentalists who said plastic bags remain one of the top pollutants in the ocean and waterways.
Carlos Medrano, 34, who works at bag manufacturer Crown Poly in Huntington Park, said he has worked his way up to supervisor in five years with the company.
"If I lose my job, it's not that easy to find another job that has all the benefits we have right now," Medrano told the commissioners.
He urged the city to focus on recycling plastic instead of implementing a plastic bag ban. Several other workers who spoke in Spanish said they were single mothers and worried about supporting their families if a plastic bag ban is approved.
Stephen Joseph, an attorney for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, said there are 4,200 workers nationwide who make plastic bags. A plastic bag ban, he pointed out, would result in many lost jobs.
"Eighty-five percent of all plastic bags are made in the U.S.,” Joseph said, adding that an outright ban on plastic bags would be ruinous to workers in the industry because “we don't have a lot of manufacturing left."
Kirsten James, water quality director for Heal the Bay, said the nonprofit group does about 400 beach and waterway cleanups every year and that single-use plastic bags are perennially one of the most recurring pollutants.
Andy Shrader, a grassroots activist who supports a ban on plastic bags, told the commissioners how he has been going to neighborhood councils in the city to educate them about plastics pollution. Of the city's 93 neighborhood councils, 17, representing some 700,000 residents, have passed resolutions supporting a ban on plastic bags.