April 22, 2012
Long gone are the days of the infamous question we could always expect at the supermarket: “would you like paper or plastic bags?” In recent years, environmentalists have urged cities and states, both domestically and abroad, to place a ban on the use of plastic bags due to their negative impact on the environment. They contribute significantly to increasing landfills and litter, and can result in harm to wildlife through ingestion or suffocation. Plastic bag bans are relatively easy for consumers to transition to in their daily lives—reusable canvas or sturdy, recycled plastic bags are becoming increasingly popular and extremely affordable, providing an easy solution to no plastic bag policies. San Francisco was the first city in the nation to enact a ban on plastic bags, and many California cities soon followed suit. However, passing such legislation is not as easy as it seems. With plastic companies lobbying against bans and their employees arguing its unfair for them to lose jobs, especially during economic times like this, policy makers must forge through lots of red tape to make the changes happen.
This “red tape,” has contributed to the challenges that Los Angeles has encountered regarding its own plastic bag ban legislation, including numerous lawsuits and opposition briefs. In 2008, Los Angeles County announced that it would begin working on a plastic bag ban, which came to fruition in 2010. According to the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles City Council announced on April 5, 2012 that it would continue to pursue both a plastic and paper bag ban in approximately 7,500 stores county-wide. A 6-month phase out period will commence, resulting in a 10-cent fee for every non-reusable bag purchased at the checkout line. If the Los Angeles ban is successful, it will join San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Carpinteria, Santa Monica, and many other California cities in the banning of plastic grocery bags. Even with the success, however, the end goal for environmentalists is to push on towards a statewide ban altogether.
While the success of the ban on plastic bag seems to be having a bit of a snowball effect, it is not without its challenges. On March 20, 2012, Save the Plastic Bag Coalition (SPBC) filed suit against the city of Carpinteria for including restaurants and other food providing facilities in its plastic bag ban, on the grounds that it violates the California Retail Food Code. Members of the SPBC include Command Packaging, among other companies, responsible for selling, distributing, and recycling of plastic bags. Their vested, personal interest in the future use of plastic bags slows down the process of enacting the bans on a larger scale. SPBC and other concerned parties have filed lawsuits against many other cities and counties, including but not limited to LA County, Marin County, Santa Cruz County, and the City of San Francisco. These parties are hoping to defend their own welfare, and this is the red tape legislators must face and move through to help the state bid farewell to plastic bags. The road to a plastic bag-free world might be long, and opposition will likely continue to be an obstacle, but there’s finally long-awaited progress in the right direction.
Sydney MacEwen and Dawnielle Tellez Alanna are undergraduates in the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.