My so-called “plastic day” in Los Angeles, a.k.a. “LA,” began with a morning rally followed by a close-to-unanimous (13 to 1) vote of the LA City Council to ban single-use plastic shopping bags in supermarkets and to “penalize” paper bag usage with a 10-cent “fine.” This makes LA the largest city in the country to take such a step towards the elimination of single-use shopping bags and the move unites LA with 47* other cities to benefit about one-fourth of Californians. (*LA will be the 48th city among San Francisco, Santa Monica and Long Beach.)
The reduction of pollution not only cares for the environment and its critters, but saves reusable bag consumers directly on their store purchases (bag fees are hidden into store charges) and it also saves tax dollars by preventing costly clean-ups. Further, it encourages “Angel-enos” to practice responsible behavior and it discourages frivolous bad habits, like treating the earth as inexhaustible.
Plastic bags have been wreaking havoc in the environment since being introduced in 1975 (by Sweden) and it is one of the topics that groups from oceanographers and wildlife organizations to waste management and urban planning all have gripes against. The light, fly-away and floating bags not only find their way through all areas of the city, ocean and rural environments, but the toxic, oil-based material doesn’t biodegrade and can outlast even the longest human lifespan. (As mentioned in the council meeting and on the Heal the Bay fact-sheet, plastic bags have even been found in the arctic regions and can take hundreds of years to breakdown.) The bags clog storm drains, cause flooding and litter the landscape. They are also fatal choking hazards for human babies and animals, especially sea creatures.
One point being brought up is that paper usage, in many ways, is more harmful and all waste needs to be reduced, not just plastic, but that doesn’t mean we should continue producing and using far more plastic than we can dispose of. The emphasis will still be on reusing and recycling, while minimizing “throw-away” items, but It seems like such a “no-brainer” to conclude that if plastics take hundreds of years to breakdown and people are going through these single-use, “disposable” items multiple times per day, it will be as Lucy says in the chocolate factory scene: “I think we are fighting a losing game.”
Beside the only “no” vote by District 8 Councilman (and ex-LAPD Chief of Police), Bernard Parks, the primary opponents of this ban are companies and laborers of plastic bags, including, Crown Poly, whose long-time workers spoke in front of the council pleading that the ban will cause them to lose their jobs. I asked one of them why the company doesn’t consider making bags from biodegradable alternatives, since the ban is only against plastic, single-use bags. As mentioned to her, I have used biodegradable bags in other countries and have wondered why we don’t have them here. In Norway, stores had biodegradable bags made from potato starch. In the Spanish region of Catalunya, the local waste management and many environmental grocers gave out or sold bags made from corn starch. In the state of Hawaii, biodegradable plastic is being used by some stores and restaurants and has even been adopted by the University of Hawaii campus. Those biodegradable “plastics” are not complete solutions for eliminating a “throw-away” culture, but it is something that should be explored over petro-based plastics that are still permitted in other types of stores (i.e. hardware stores), smaller fruit and vegetable “baggies” and restaurant products.
Turnouts at the rally included organizers, Heal the Bay and supporters from the Surfrider Foundation, Environment California, Retail Clerks Association UFCW770, Green Vets L.A., Ban The Bag!, the Sierra Club, Friends of Los Angeles River, HomeBoy Industries, Earthwise, public television station, KCET and L.A. Times coverage by staff veteran, Mark Boster who is a noted journalist and photographer of the book, Yosemite in Four Seasons. Several civic leaders attended the rally, including District 5 Councilman, Paul Koretz, the proposal’s advocate, as well as the former CEO of LA Department of Water and Power. A few celebrity activists also spoke in support of the ban, including actress, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who humorously opened the City Council address in an iconic LA moment, reported on NBC4 and noted in LA Observed.
As I headed back to the LA Metro for my ride home, I ironically passed the most “plastic” of all LA folks: mannequins sunbathing next to a puddle in a fenced off construction site. This anonymous** street artwork, referenced as “sunbathers,” was written about today in the L.A. Times blog, L.A. NOW and can be followed on Twitter with #lastreetart or @lanow. (**Post, post note: The work is Calder Greenwood’s “day at the beach” written about in a subsequent L.A. NOW update.)
Links and resources:
Heal the Bay | Approved Measure Press Release: http://www.healthebay.org/media-center/press-releases/la-city-council-approves-ban-plastic-bags.
Heal the Bay | Rally FAQ: http://www.healthebay.org/event/rally-support-la-city-council’s-bag-ban.
Heal the Bay | Pre-Rally Press Release: http://www.healthebay.org/media-center/press-releases/la-city-council-approves-ban-plastic-bags.
Heal the Bay | City of LA Bag Proposal FAQ: http://www.healthebay.org/sites/default/files/pdf/fact-sheets/faq-cityofla-plasticbags.pdf.
City of LA Bag Policy Site: http://www.zerowaste.lacity.org/info/Bag_Policy.html.
Heal the Bay | Plastic Bag Fact Sheet: http://www.healthebay.org/sites/default/files/Fact-Sheet_Plastic-Bags_March2011_Ocean-Day.pdf.
Heal the Bay | Truth About Plastic Bags FAQ: http://www.healthebay.org/sites/default/files/Plastic%20Bags.pdf.
Plastic Bag Laws: http://plasticbaglaws.org/.
L.A. Times | Ban on plastic bags at L.A. markets is approved: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/05/los-angeles-plastic-bag-ban-approved.html.
L.A. Times | L.A.’s sweeping ban isn’t in the bag yet: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0523-lopez-bagban-20120523,0,2728274.column.
KCET | L.A. Plastic Bag Ban: Council OKs Major Step Toward Complete Ban: http://www.kcet.org/updaily/1st_and_spring/environment/la-plastic-bag-ban-council-oks-major-step-toward-complete-ban.html.
KCET | L.A.’s Plastic and Paper Bag Ban is Built on Past Mistakes : http://www.kcet.org/updaily/1st_and_spring/commentary/paper-or-plastic-the-great-debate.html.
Plastic a Toxic Love Story | book by Susan Freinkel: http://susanfreinkel.com/books_Plastic.html.
L.A. Times | Street art ‘sunbathers’ draw double-take in downtown: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/05/street-art-los-angeles-art.html.
Biodegradable bags from potato starch: http://www.rsc.org/education/teachers/Resources/inspirational/resources/3.1.7.pdf.
Smithsonian Magazine | Biodegradable bags from corn starch: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/plastic.html.
General info on bio plastics:
Issue posted on problems with bio plastics: