Plastic vs Paper The Debate over plastic Bags in LA

Ban or No Ban: The Debate over Plastic Bags in LA (UPDATED)
by Jeremy Elton Jacquot, Los Angeles on 01.22.08
Business & Politics

Will Los Angeles follow San Francisco's lead and become California's second major city to adopt a plastic bag ban? After some initial progress, the measure seems to have hit a wall: As Emerald City's Siel recently noted, a vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors to determine whether disposable plastic bags should be taxed or outright banned has been cast into doubt after the supervisors made a last-minute decision to water down some of the pollution plan's key provisions.

Several local environmental groups, including Heal the Bay, are urging supporters to attend a rally at noon to protest the supervisors' decision to back down on the measure and to advocate for a complete ban. Heal the Bay has been a leading voice on this issue and was frustrated to see its efforts to curry an agreement with the supes fall apart.

A Heal the Bay action alert lays out the situation thusly:

"During their January 22nd hearing, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a variety of options to reduce plastic bag consumption, including a conditional or outright ban.

In preparing for this vote, for the past nine months, Heal the Bay has been working with the Board and advocating for strong action to curb the County’s 6 billion bag per year plastic bag addiction. Our agreement as of Tuesday with several Board of Supervisors’ offices was that reduction and recycling efforts need to reach 35% by 2010 and 70% by 2013; if these reduction goals are not met, the Board would consider a bag ban.

However, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is threatening to weaken the above reduction goals to aggressively curb plastic bag use that had been agreed upon earlier this week. The County is unfortunately proposing to now further reduce these goals.

Because of Heal the Bay’s opposition to this additional weakening, the Board may AGAIN postpone a vote on this critical decision. The County’s latest proposal is simply greenwashing and only does lipservice to the blight and environmental damage caused by plastic bags."

The question over whether or not to enforce a ban remains a contentious one, with some influential voices coming out in favor of a bag tax. In a recent editorial, the LAT weighed in on the side of a tax on plastic bags, arguing that a complete ban would impose a hidden tax on retailers, which would inevitably be passed on to the consumers.

Moreover, the editorial criticized the biodegradable alternatives now being used in San Francisco for not "entirely solving the pollution problem," stating:

"The starch bags also don't entirely solve the pollution problem because they may never break down in landfills, which are sealed to prevent water seepage and thus "mummify" everything dumped in them, biodegradable or not."

It favorably cited the strategy China assumed this past week, which is to ban ultra-thin plastic bags while keeping the thicker ones - as long as retailers charge a fee for them. It concluded by stating:

"On Jan. 22, the supervisors are expected to vote on a motion calling on the Legislature to repeal that provision, and also to implement a statewide fee on plastic shopping bags. The board should pass it, and the Legislature should show that it has at least as much economic common sense as Chinese central planners by following through."

Ideally, of course, the best solution would be for people to simply reuse the bags - be they plastic, paper or starch - or, alternatively, to buy several of many reusable bags. Angelenos interested in attending the rally tomorrow can find more information about it here; also, if you support Heal the Bay's efforts, consider signing their petition urging the outright ban of plastic bags.

UPDATED: Via Siel again, it looks like there won't be a plastic bag ban until at least 2010.

Via ::Emerald City: Plastic bags: Ban them or tax them? A hearing happens 1/22 (blog), ::Los Angeles Times: Charging for plastic bags (newspaper)

See also: ::Wait for Us! Australia Wants to Ban Plastic Bags Too, ::China Launches Crackdown on Plastic Bags