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Los Angeles to become largest US city banning plastic bags

The Los Angeles City Council voted 13-to-1 to move forward with a controversial ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. Critics say it’s an example of regulatory overreach.

By Staff writer / May 24, 2012

This June 2010 file photo shows a customer putting plastics bags in a recycling bin at a grocery store in Palo Alto, Calif. The Los Angeles City Council has voted to move forward with a controversial ban on single-use plastic grocery bags.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File

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The Los Angeles City Council has voted to move forward with a controversial ban on single-use plastic grocery bags – a move designed to reduce landfill waste and debris in local waterways.

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The vote was greeted by supporters as a major step for the environment, while critics say it's an example of regulatory overreach that will limit consumer choices and cost jobs.

Los Angeles will become the largest city in the United States to impose a plastic-bag ban, with some 7,500 affected stores and nearly 4 million residents. The city council vote, which took place Wednesday, sets in motion a months-long process including an environmental review, enactment of an ordinance, and a phase-in period that affects larger stores first, according to news reports.

As a further nudge for consumers to deploy reusable shopping bags, the council also voted to require a 10-cent fee for each paper bag.

Even though further steps are needed before the ban goes into effect, the 13-to-1 vote by the city council gives new momentum to efforts to ban bags in other US communities, as well as toward possible enactment of a statewide ban in California. (Counties throughout Hawaii have enacted bans, making it the first state with zero tolerance for single-use bags.)

Critics of the move say it amounts to micromanaging the behavior of consumers and businesses, for questionable gains.

"Is there any wonder California is ranked the worst state for businesses?" Daniel Halper wrote in an online commentary for the conservative Weekly Standard before the city council's vote.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group representing makers and recyclers of plastic bags, said in a statement Wednesday that the policy will threaten jobs in an industry that employs some 2,000 people statewide. Mark Daniels, who chairs the group, said the ban will push residents toward "less environmentally friendly reusable bags which are produced overseas and cannot be recycled."

"Singling out and banning one product does not reduce litter," Mr. Daniels asserted. "The city chose to take a simplistic approach that takes away consumer choice."

Environmentalists, however, say cracking down on plastic bags will be a clear win for ecosystems in southern California.

Los Angeles currently uses some 2.3 billion single-use plastic bags each year, plus 400 million paper bags, says the group Heal the Bay in Santa Monica, Calif. Only about 5 percent of the plastic bags are currently recycled, the group says, arguing that "we can't recycle our way out of this problem."

Supporters of the ban argue that the current policy imposes a hidden burden, as bags come to consumers cheap but then clog waterways, get stuck in trees, and blow around city streets. Disposal and recycling cost an estimated 17 cents per bag, says Heal the Bay.

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