A long-contemplated ban on carryout shopping bags in Los Angeles was held up on Friday when city lawmakers asked for further studies on the economic effect of such a move.
The information they receive will help decide the details of the measure — whether it will ban all single-use shopping bags or follow many other California cities and counties in prohibiting plastic bags but still allowing stores to sell paper ones for a small fee.
Support for some kind of bag ban appears to be strong on the City Council, where several members have pledged to get the measure passed before March 31, 2012. But a few complained about the length of time it has taken to pass a ban, which was first discussed four years ago.
"It is a shame that we can't drive public policy, as opposed to leading from behind all the time," City Councilman Richard Alarcon said.
The Bureau of Sanitation reports than an estimated 2.3 billion plastic bags and 400 million paper bags are used in the city each year. Only 5% of the plastic and 21% of the paper end up being recycled. Supporters of the ban say the rest end up in landfills and or in nature.
The environmental group Heal the Bay, which has been lobbying Los Angeles officials to enact a ban since 2007, the year San Francisco became the first city in the nation to do so, says plastic bags are among the worst marine pollutants. Councilman Paul Krekorian, who co-sponsored the ban, on Friday called the bags "a scourge that's destroying our oceans."
Krekorian, who believes L.A.'s actions could spur a statewide ban, said he wants the measure passed by March 31, before the Legislature's spring break.
Last year, a proposed state ban on plastic bags died in the Legislature. It was supported by the California Grocers Assn., which has complained about a city-by-city patchwork that forces them to follow different rules in different places, and opposed by the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying group that represents the plastics industry.
The group says paper bags are just as bad for the environment because of the energy required to produce them. Others have pointed out that even producing reusable bags takes an environmental toll. Bag manufacturer Crown Poly, located in Vernon, said the ban would threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of employees.
L.A. Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose Energy and Environment Committee considered the ban Friday, said she is not yet convinced that including paper bags in the proposal is the best move for the city. She asked the chief legislative analyst and the city administrative officer to report back in 30 days on the potential cost of several scenarios, including a ban on both types of bags, a ban only on plastics and the possibility of charging a fee for paper bags.
Perry also requested that the Bureau of Sanitation craft a 60-day plan to inform stores and community members about coming changes. City officials appear wary of potential legal ramifications.
Many cities and counties have enacted bans in recent years, including Los Angeles County, Long Beach, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and Malibu. Several of them, including L.A. County, have faced legal action as a result, said Karen Coca, who heads the Bureau of Sanitation's recycling division.
Manhattan Beach was sued on the basis of inadequate environmental review, Coca said, adding that the state Supreme Court upheld the ban.
Los Angeles has yet to conduct an environmental review.