Those flimsy plastic shopping bags seem to end up in our waterways, storm drains, wilderness areas and even the desert in far greater numbers than in the supermarket recycling bins where they belong. Yet the objections of grocers and other retailers that rely on them have paralyzed public officials who might otherwise act to rid the environment of these petroleum-based pests. We hope the members of the Los Angeles City Council, which is poised to vote today on a ban, don't join them. A ban isn't the ideal way to address the problem, but it might be the council's only choice.
The example of Ireland shows that a fee on single-use plastic bags is a remarkably fair and effective method for bringing about environmental transformation. A 25-cent fee has turned the Irish into a nation of reusable-tote carriers. But you don't need to go that far in either geography or expense. In March 2007, IKEA began charging 5 cents a bag. A year later, use of plastic bags at its stores is down 92%.
Strange to say, California has been moving in the other direction. A 2006 bill prohibited municipalities from imposing fees on plastic shopping bags. A new bill, AB 2058 by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), would repeal that prohibition.