Plastic shopping bags, a staple of the U.S. retail experience for a
half-century, may be going the way of lead paint and other banned products.
Los Angeles, the second most-populous U.S. city, yesterday
became the largest American metropolis to curb use of the ubiquitous bags out
of concern that they clog waterways, kill marine life and litter public places.
An alderman in Chicago has introduced a similar measure, and a councilman in New York said he plans
to follow suit.
The city of 3.9 million uses more than 2 billion plastic carryout bags a
year, with most ending up as litter or in landfills, according to a Sanitation
Bureau report. Officials in all three cities say their goal is a coast-to-coast
ban on the bags, which some compare to the polystyrene foam sandwich containers
that McDonald‚Äôs Corp. (MCD) phased out in the 1990s.
‚ÄúIt does send a message that the second- and third-largest cities in the
country are going to act,‚ÄĚ said Chicago Alderman Joe
Moreno, author of that city‚Äôs proposal. ‚ÄúLocal officials are dealing with this
because they have to deal with the plastic bags on the sidewalks and in the
The plastic-bag industry is fighting the bans. The American Progressive
Bag Alliance, its lobbying arm, said ordinances like Los Angeles‚Äôs threaten a
business that employs 30,800 people in 349 communities that has embraced
recycling and other measures to cut pollution.
‚ÄúPlastic bags account for four-tenths of 1 percent of the solid-waste
stream,‚ÄĚ said Mark Daniels, chairman of the alliance and an executive at
Hartsville, South Carolina-based manufacturer Hilex Poly Co. ‚ÄúFor
environmentalists to state that plastic bags are filling up our landfills is
false; it‚Äôs mythical.‚ÄĚ
Los Angeles stores with annual gross sales of $2 million, or more than
10,000 square feet of retail space, have until Jan. 1 to use up their stock of
plastic bags; the deadline for smaller stores is July 1, 2014. Merchants may
offer paper bags at a charge of 10 cents each, with proceeds going to the
stores. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is scheduled to sign the legislation today.
The island of Nantucket, Massachusetts, has banned plastic shopping bags since the early
1990s, and Westport, Connecticut; San Francisco; Seattle; Brownsville, Texas; and Aspen,Colorado also have
outlawed the sacks, according to the nonprofit PlasticBagLaws.org, which supports the efforts. Los Angeles County
adopted an ordinance in 2010 to ban plastic bags in unincorporated
areas, which have more than 1 million residents, and to require stores to
charge 10 cents per paper bag.
At a Ralphs grocery store, owned by Kroger Co. (KR), in the
unincorporated seaside community of Marina del Rey, California, customers packed groceries in paper bags,
reusable canvas and plastic sacks yesterday.
John Anagnous, a 25-year-old precious-metals seller who toted his
groceries to his car in three paper bags, called the ban an example of
‚ÄúThis is an easy buck for the grocery chains, to be honest with you,‚ÄĚ
Anagnous said ‚ÄúI understand being environmentally friendly, but I find plastic
bags really convenient. I find it ridiculous that they want to tell us what we
Neil Huxley, a 38-year-old creative director, lugged two packages of
toilet tissue -- made of recycled paper -- to his car without bags. He said he
supports policies against one-time-use containers and that the ban has nudged
him to bring reusable bags to the store.
‚ÄúThis is the 21st century,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúWe should be concerned about the
Chicago‚Äôs plan, which would take effect four months after adoption, may
come up for a vote this summer, Moreno said. It may allow stores to charge for
paper bags and would require them to stock reusable bags, he said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel ‚Äúwill work
with members of City Council to reach a consensus on this issue,‚ÄĚ spokesman Tom
Alexander said by e-mail.
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association is opposing Chicago‚Äôs measure,
said Tanya Triche, the group‚Äôs vice president and general counsel. She said
plastic bags cost retailers about 3 cents each, compared with about 9 cents for
‚ÄúIt really raises the costs for merchants,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúIn this fragile
economy -- and Chicago‚Äôs is more fragile than most -- we don‚Äôt think this is
the time to be raising costs on businesses.‚ÄĚ
In New York, Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn said he plans
to introduce a measure this year to outlaw plastic bags, though he hasn‚Äôt
worked out details.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg‚Äôs proposed 5-cent tax on plastic bags, which was
intended to discourage use, died in the City Council in 2008, spokesman Marc LaVorgna said by
e-mail. The mayor is the majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
‚ÄúWhen the mayor proposed the tax a few years ago, far fewer cities
across the country had taken action to reduce plastic bag waste,‚ÄĚ Lander said
by telephone. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs time for New York Cityto catch up.‚ÄĚ
Having large cities take action is critical to ridding the U.S. of
plastic bags, said Matthew King, a spokesman for Heal the Bay, a nonprofit
environmental group in Santa Monica that has
pushed for bans in California.
‚ÄúAs businesspeople, the grocers want to have uniformity,‚ÄĚ King said by
telephone. ‚ÄúFrom a supply-chain perspective, it‚Äôs a hassle to have a patchwork
of local laws. It‚Äôs our hope this will have a domino effect. That‚Äôs why L.A. is
such a big deal for us.‚ÄĚ
Elected officials in different cities are trying to one-up one another
with plastic-bag bans that aren‚Äôt based on science, said Cathy Browne, general
manager of Crown Poly Inc., a bag-maker in Huntington Park, California, that
employs 300 people.
‚ÄúPlastic bags don‚Äôt kill mammals and birds,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs plastic
fishing line. Nobody‚Äôs talking about banning plastic fishing line.‚ÄĚ
A statewide plastic-bag ban for California fell short in the Senate in May. State Senator Alex Padilla, a
Pacoima Democrat who previously served on the Los Angeles City Council, said in
a statement that the city‚Äôs ban ‚Äúgives tremendous momentum to our efforts in Sacramento.‚ÄĚ
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, a Democratic former state
lawmaker who introduced the ordinance, said other local measures helped build
support for bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines for rifles and indoor
smoking that ultimately became state laws.
‚ÄúLos Angeles is really a trendsetter,‚ÄĚ Koretz said. ‚ÄúThis could be a
model for the rest of the country and beyond.‚ÄĚ