It is estimated that Californians use 12 billion plastic bags a year — and that less than 5 percent of those bags are recycled.

But that number is destined to dwindle now that the Los Angeles City Council has voted 13 to 1 to phase out plastic shopping bags over the next 16 months at nearly 7,500 stores. The ban makes Los Angeles the largest city in the country to banish plastic bags at the checkout line, delivering a long and hard-fought victory to environmental advocates, and a headache to plastic bag manufacturers.

Shoppers will still be able to request paper bags, for a charge of 10 cents each.

The decision came after years of campaigning by activists who argued that a ban would reduce trash in landfills, as well as in local waterways and the ocean, reports the Los Angeles Times. Council members were encouraged to take measures by actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and an array of environmental groups.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks cast the single opposing vote, saying the city didn’t have sufficient information on potential health hazards of reusable bags.

One plastic bag industry group estimated the loss of 2,000 jobs, and employees of plastic bag companies, fearing unemployment, pleaded with council members to deny the ban. The group said it is keeping the option of filing a legal challenge open.

The Times quoted H. David Nahai, a former senior executive at the Department of Water and Power, as saying: "Plastic harms our environment. It is a threat to the coastal economy. It is a danger to marine life, and it is an unconscionable burden to taxpayers who have to foot the bill for cleanups year after year."

San Francisco approved the state’s first plastic bag ban in 2007, applying it only to supermarkets and pharmacies. San Jose, Long Beach, Santa Monica and a number of other California cities have followed suit. The bans vary in scale and scope, with some applying to all retailers and restaurants, while others apply only to supermarkets.

Will the momentum of the new ban urge state lawmakers to do as Hawaii did and ban plastic bags across the entire state? Just imagine the impact of 12 billion plastic bags a year dipping down to zero.

Upon the vote, Councilman Ed Reyes enthused, “Let’s get the message to Sacramento that it’s time to go statewide.”

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