Los Angeles is criticized for its culture of superficiality, in which glamour, aesthetics and plastic surgery gloss over the city’s imperfections. Earlier this month, however, Los Angeles County took a significant step toward making real environmental progress by reducing our culture’s plasticity in the most literal sense: banning plastic bags.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to pass the ordinance on Nov. 16 by a partisan vote of 3-1. With past bans on disposable bags recently enacted in San Francisco and Malibu, Calif., environmentally conscious individuals have been pushing to extend the ordinance throughout the rest of California and make the state the first in the nation to impose blanket restrictions on plastic bags.
“We hope California can show other states that this is doable,” Gina Goodhill, a Los Angeles-based oceanography specialist for Environment California, told the San Diego Tribune. “We think this bill can be a model for other states to follow.”
The ban will directly affect nearly 1.1 million people in Los Angeles County who live outside the county’s incorporated cities. It does not, however, apply to the county’s incorporated cities.
Although 67 supermarkets and pharmacies must stop offering plastic bags by this July during the first phase of the ordinance, it won’t be until January of 2012 that the ban will affect the majority of grocery stores — more than 1,000 throughout the county.
The legislation also aims to encourage customers to use reusable bags by enacting a 10-cent surcharge for every paper bag used as well.
“Plastic bags are a pollutant. They pollute the urban landscape. They are what we call in our county urban tumbleweed,” L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the Los Angeles Times.
Although some people might argue that recycling plastic bags would be a better alternative to banning them altogether, the state’s past attempts to bolster recycling efforts for disposable bags suggest that this is not an efficient solution. In California, more than 120,000 tons of bags are used each year, and less than 5 percent are recycled.
In addition to environmental clean up, the ban also offers financial incentives, as the ordinance would decrease the amount of money taxpayers pay annually for clearing disposable bags off the streets, which according to the Los Angeles Times, is almost $25 million a year.
Despite the financial and environmental benefits, however, opponents of the plastic bag ban express concern that smaller shops would be hurt financially because they won’t be able to purchase the larger-volume discounts for paper and reusable bags from which larger franchises benefit. Opponents worry that the extra cost of reusable bags is an unnecessary economic burden on small businesses.
“At a time of economic uncertainty, with a large number of businesses leaving our state and community, this would not be an appropriate time … to impose this additional regulation,” Supervisor Michael Antonovich, the ban’s lone dissenter, told the Los Angeles Times.
Another criticism of the plastic bag ban is that the patchy municipal laws, which only affect certain jurisdictions, can cause confusion. Rather than restricting the use of plastic bags only in areas of the county outside of the incorporated cities, the legislation should try to unify the regulation throughout the entire city of Los Angeles. With consistency throughout the county, shoppers would avoid confusion and large chain stores would be more efficient.
Although the plastic bag ban might initially cause disorder among specific chain grocery stores, the negative effects will be minimal. In the long-term, the ordinance will serve as an important step toward environmental cleanup.
Amir Kabiri is a senior majoring in communication.