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LA to become biggest city to ban plastic bags on Jan. 1

A bill that would make California the first to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at certain retail stores has passed a key legislative committee.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
A ban on single-use plastic grocery bags takes effect in Los Angeles on Jan. 1. The law initially extends to major grocery chains such as Ralph's.

Starting Jan. 1, large grocery chains in Los Angeles can no longer offer plastic shopping bags at the checkout line.  And while paper bags will still be an option, shoppers who request them will have to pay 10 cents per bag.

The changes are part of a new city ordinance geared at pushing Angelenos toward reusable bags. 

"The reason for doing this is to protect our environment," said Daniel Hackney, special projects manager at the city's Bureau of Sanitation.

Hackney said that it's hard to quantify how much banning plastic bags will reduce the waste stream, but "probably the No. 1 item we find in catch basins around town is grocery store plastic bags."

LA is the largest city in the country to adopt a plastic bag ban, and joins 90 other communities statewide that already have similar laws including Long Beach, Glendale, Pasadena and Santa Monica.  

The LA ban will initially apply to thousands of chain stores across the city ranging from traditional supermarkets such as Von's and Food-4-Less to retailers that sell groceries like Target and Wal-Mart.

Thousands more convenience stores and independent groceries will have until July 1 to abide by the new ordinance because they're smaller and have fewer resources than the chains, Hackney said.

Outside the Ralph's in Silver Lake, shoppers were alerted to the upcoming change by signs at the entrance. Response was mixed. Nicole Richards said that she uses plastic bags to line the kitty litter box, and will have to find an alternative when the ban takes effect. But she supports the new law. 

"I think in the long run, I think it's going to be much better for the environment," Richards said.

Alex Bravo, on the other hand, said he doesn't understand why he should have to pay for a paper bag if he wants one.

"Customers should be entitled to bags," said Bravo, whose household uses plastic bags to line trash cans. "They're already putting money into the store."

The City Council passed the plastic-bag ban in June after a years-long debate over its merits pitted clean-water advocates against the plastic-bag making industry.

Cathy Browne, general manager for plastic-bag maker Crown Poly in Huntington Park, said that the new ordinance could jeopardize jobs at its facility, where about 300 people work now.

"We have stopped growing and we are not going to invest in new jobs," Browne said.

Browne added that ban is not good for commerce in LA. Businesses could be harmed if some customers opt to shop in a neighboring city without a ban, she said. Meanwhile, shoppers who go into a store without any bags will have to pay fees to carry their groceries out.

"It's like a money grab, legislators wanting to be green and get their name in the press, and then everybody forgets about it," Browne said.

But Councilmember Paul Koretz countered that "the fact that we're doing this will get a lot of attention and we hope it will be replicated across the country."

Koretz said the city has been working diligently to raise awareness about the new law to make sure no one is caught off guard.

In addition, the council put in some provisions that exempt lower-income Angelenos from having to pay for paper bags if they need them.

Participants from which programs are exempted from plastic-bag ban?

As a way to jumpstart the program, the city is offering free reusable bags through the Bureau of Sanitation, and through the offices of council members.