LA County passes bag ban

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By a 3-1 vote and with one member absent, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Nov. 16 to ban single-use plastic carryout bags.

The law, which applies to unincorporated areas of the county where the combined population is roughly 1.1 million people, also requires retailers to charge customers 10 cents per paper bag.

The ban is set to take effect July 1 for grocery stores with $2 million or more in sales, and retail stores with 10,000 square feet or more that have pharmacies.

The ban is to go into effect at liquor stores, food marts and convenience stores Jan. 1, 2012.

It is possible that the plastics industry will file a lawsuit challenging the ban, in light of California voters' recent approval of Proposition 26, which requires any fees, levies, charges and taxes imposed by governments to receive a two-thirds majority vote.

If Proposition 26 applies to laws passed by all governmental bodies in the state, that would mean the bill would need a 4-1 vote in Los Angeles County, as the board of supervisors has five members.

“In the days ahead, we'll have to look at all the options to see how Proposition 26 applies to the bag ordinance,” said Tim Shestek, senior director of state affairs in California, in a statement issued by the American Chemistry Council in Washington. “California voters overwhelming agreed that they're tired of getting hit with fees that are little more than thinly veiled taxes.

“It's extremely disappointing that the board of supervisors would take this approach, which threatens to derail existing recycling programs and fleeces consumers,” Shestek said. “We believe there are more effective ways of reducing bag litter and waste” that do not raise grocery costs for families, put manufacturing jobs at risk or “require more government bureaucracy.”

The Los Angeles County ban does not apply to cities in the county, only unincorporated areas. It is more stringent that the four other plastic bag bans in the state, in the cities of San Francisco, Malibu, Palo Alto and Fairfax. The Los Angeles County ban also applies to biodegradable and compostable plastic bags.

In San Francisco, stores can offer shoppers bioplastic bags. Also, none of the other California cities with plastic bag bans require retailers to charge customers for paper bags.

The Los Angeles county ban is quite clear, as it says that “no store shall provide to any customer a plastic carryout bag.”

There is an exemption in the law for plastic bags that hold fruit, vegetables or raw meat, in order to prevent contamination with other grocery items. In addition, the 10-cent fee for paper bags will be waived for people in the California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or the state's Supplemental Food Program.

The county ban comes two months after the state Senate failed to pass a statewide plastic bag ban that had been approved by the state Assembly and had the support of outgoing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In January 2008, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors had said it would pursue a plastic bag ban if the state did not ban or tax plastic bags, and if the industry did not voluntarily reduce plastic bag use in the county 30 percent by July 1, 2010, and 65 percent by 2013.

In recommending the ban, Gail Farber, public works director for LA County, said that the recycling goals were not met, and that the fee on paper bags is not a tax because “no portion of the 10-cent charge is being remitted back to the county.”

“The charge is being retained by the affected stores … to cover their reasonable costs of compliance with the ordinance [and] only applies if a customer chooses to use a recyclable paper carryout bag, and pay for that benefit or privilege,” Farber said in a letter to the board of supervisors.

Farber estimates the ban could reduce the use of plastic carryout bags in the county from about 1,600 per household in 2007 to fewer than 800 per household in 2013, and cut local costs for prevention, cleanup, and enforcement efforts to reduce litter by $4 million.

She also said the final environmental impact report conducted by the county concluded that a tax on paper bags would not cause an adverse environmental impact.