Reusable tote bags such as the one above would take the place of single-use… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)
Paper or plastic? For shoppers in Los Angeles, the choice may soon be neither.
Hoping to reduce the billions of grocery bags circulating throughout the city, an L.A. councilman Tuesday called for a sweeping ban on single-use paper and plastic bags.
By including paper bags in the ban, the proposal goes beyond similar measures taken recently by other California cities and counties. Although L.A. County, Santa Monica and other municipalities have banned plastic bags in recent years, most have allowed stores to sell paper ones for a small fee.
"With paper bags, you're still generating litter," said Councilman Paul Koretz, who introduced the motion proposing the ban. "We're taking the next step."
Environmentalists celebrated the news and said they hoped that it would push Sacramento lawmakers to enact a statewide ban.
"We're thrilled," said Kirsten James, water quality director for Heal the Bay. "We're hoping that more of these local policies will be a wake-up call."
Her group has been lobbying Los Angeles officials to enact a ban since 2007, the year that San Francisco became the first city in the nation to outlaw plastic bags in supermarkets and drugstores. Heal the Bay and other environmental groups calling for the bans say plastic bags are among the sea's most insidious pollutants.
But lobbyists who work for the plastics industry have said that paper bags are just as bad for the environment because of the energy required to produce them.
Under the L.A. proposal, stores would be permitted to give away or sell only reusable tote bags, or risk a fine. An exemption would be made for small plastic bags meant to keep raw vegetables and meats separated from other groceries to prevent cross-contamination.
Koretz said he thought retailers would welcome the proposal.
"It will save them money" he said. "It will help them make money in the long run."
In the past, large retailers have complained about a city-by-city patchwork of laws that forces them to follow different rules in different places. Instead, they have called for a statewide law that would set guidelines.
Last year, a proposed statewide ban on plastic bags died in the Legislature. It was opposed by the American Chemistry Council, the lobbying group that represents the plastic bag industry.
The California Grocers Assn. supported the bill. In response to the proposed Los Angeles law, spokesman Dave Heylen said, "We look forward to working with the city as they look at options for consumers to transport their goods from stores."
In 2008, the City Council asked the Bureau of Sanitation to report on the proliferation of plastic bags in the city. According to officials, about 2.3 billion plastic bags are used in the city each year, with only 5% recycled, and 400 million paper bags, 21% recycled.
The City Council's Energy and Environment Committee will decide whether to move forward with the proposed ban.