LA County Goes Where the State Legislature Could Not

Not three months after the State Senate failed to pass AB 1998 (Brownley), one of this year’s top environmental bills which sought to ban single use plastic bags, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted 3-1 to put in place their own plastic bag ban. The ordinance, passed on Tuesday, affects grocery stores and pharmacies in the unincorporated areas of the county, and includes a 10 cent surcharge on paper bags.

By July of next year, 67 large supermarkets and pharmacies must stop providing disposable plastic bags, and by January 2012 the ban will cover 1,000 stores and 1.1 million people county-wide. Each year, Los Angeles County residents use 6 billion plastic bags which equates to 1,600 bags per household every year.

Plastic bags are a leading cause of both urban and ocean pollution, threatening ocean wildlife and clogging the state’s landfills. Plastic bags are a key ingredient of the Great Northwest Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, which is a swirling mass of garbage twice the size of Texas and growing, filled with plastic debris that is ingested by birds and other wildlife. 

Environmental and public health advocates, along with the California Grocers Association, supported AB 1998, believing a statewide solution was better for businesses and consumers than a county-by-county or city-by-city approach. However, under intense lobbying from the American Chemistry Council and the manufactures of plastic bags, the Senate failed to pass the measure. During the debate leading up to the senate vote, LA County made clear that they were ready to take on the issue if State Legislature failed to do so. Other jurisdictions across the state are now lining up to ban single use bags, hopefully sending a strong message to legislators to reject the plastic industry’s efforts to sell convenience at the price of pollution.