reusable bags

So you’ve been BYO-ing your own reusable bag to the grocery store for years. And if you live in Southern California, you’ve heard a lot about how disposable bags could get disposed of real soon, thanks to anti-one-use-bag laws-to-be. And you’re wondering if your BYO-ing ways will become every Angeleno’s 2010 New Year’s resolution.

Ha ha!

Okay — the situation’s not THAT bad. We’ve got many allies on our side, since the move to ban plastic bags isn’t simply an environmental one in SoCal, considering the fact that our tourist dollars depend on clean-looking, not-too-plasticky beaches. But despite pretty widespread support for a plastic bag ban, these bans are a hard time coming.

Why? The plastic bag industry, which has been killing marine life with its products for years, is marketing itself as an endangered species in need of environmental protection.

That’s right — the plastic industry’s renamed itself the “Save the Plastic Bag” coalition. And it’s arguing that the California Environmental Quality Act — which requires environmental impact reports for projects and plans that may harm the environment — applies to plastic bag bans! The industry’s saying that cities and counties must be required to conduct time-consuming environmental impact study to see if banning plastic bags could be bad for the environment. Mark Gold, president of environmental nonprofit Heal the Bay, wrote about this crazy irony back in January:

If you were to believe the letter [from the plastic industry] that reads as if it came straight out of Lewis Carroll, banning plastic bags will lead to major climate change and deforestation impacts.

Thank God the plastic industry is trying to save us from global warming….

Surely, this is the definition of insanity. Also, the precedent of being forced to complete an EIR on every ordinance or zoning change is beyond horrifying, and would lead to a perpetual state of inertia in local government.

Sadly, the plastic industry’s been quite successful at using environmental laws to stall plastic bag bans. Remember how Manhattan Beach voted to ban these bags back in July 2008? That city got sued, so the ban’s still not in effect. L.A. County voted in not-even-that-threatening voluntary reductions, to be followed up by a bag ban if agreed-upon reductions don’t happen by July 2010 — and got sued by the plastic bag industry. Santa Monica started working on an ordinance for a ban in February 2008 — then decided in January 2009 to hold off on passing a ban because the plastic bag industry threatened to sue.

The one city that hasn’t gotten sued is Malibu, whose plastic bag ban went into effect October 2008. Why no lawsuit? Who knows? “It’s very bizarre,” said Kirsten James of Heal the Bay earlier this week, “but it’s good news that they slipped through the cracks.”

So what happens now? Kirsten James says that local counties and cities are trying to work together on joint Environmental Impact Reports to cut costs. The hope is that L.A. County will be able to complete its EIR by spring, before the automatic ban trigger kicks in, thereby throwing off the plastic industry’s lawsuit.

And hopefully, the city of L.A. will see a ban soon too. The Los Angeles City Council actually voted to ban plastic bags by Jan. 1, 2010 if a statewide user-fee on plastic or paper bags has not been established by that time. No state law’s been passed, which means a city-wide ban should become reality — except the a ban doesn’t automatically kick in Jan. 1. The city council now needs to pass an ordinance to adopt a city-wide policy banning plastic bags — which isn’t likely happen before Jan. 1, according to Kirsten James. This means Angelenos need to put pressure on the city council to pass that ordinance ASAP.

On the state level, my own state assemblymember Julia Brownley introduced AB68, which, if passed, would put a 25 cent fee on paper and plastic bags, with the revenue going to local governments to help clean up trash and litter. Kirsten James says the bill’s stuck in its first house at the moment, but hope remains: “The budget is an excuse for a lot of things in the last year … but we see this as a potential revenue generator.”

Want Los Angeles to pass a bag ban ASAP? Write your council members asking for the ordinance they promised. Want the state to tax the bag? Heal the Bay’s Trashed site has a handy letter supporting AB68 you can send to the California Legislature.

Photo: Envirowoman

Plastic bag industry's ironic embrace of eco-laws
The plastic industry fights bans on disposable bags with an ironic tool: The California Environmental Quality Act.