Sacking the bags
City commission begins discussing a plastic bag ban in Pasadena
By Jake Armstrong 04/28/2011
The days of the so-called urban tumbleweed may soon be over in Pasadena, as members of the city’s Environmental Advisory Commission today begin laying the groundwork for a ban on plastic shopping bags.
Following the lead of several cities across the state, the commission will discuss and take public input on an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags at large grocery stores — those with annual sales upwards of $2 million — and retail stores larger than 10,000 square feet, as well as farmer’s markets and drug, liquor and convenience stores. The proposed ordinance would also require stores to charge a 10-cent fee for paper bags and either sell or give away reusable bags to customers.
Felicia Williams, chair of the committee, which consults the City Council on environmental issues, said the ordinance represents a key step in an ambitious plan to reduce the city’s waste stream to zero by 2040. But, even as local shoppers report voluntarily switching to reusable bags in the absence of a plastic bag prohibition, those who manufacture the bags say the proposal is a job-killer that will disrupt recycling efforts already underway.
Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets for the American Chemistry Council, a lobbying arm of Dow, DuPont, Chevron and other manufacturers, said Southern California is home to about 1,000 workers who make plastic bags used in stores everyday. “This could potentially impact their lives and their livelihoods,” Christman said. “It really isn’t the right approach.”
Christman said plastic bag recycling efforts are gaining steam across the country, rising 31 percent to reach 854 million pounds of recycled bags between 2005 and 2009. State law even requires stores to provide ways for customers to recycle their bags. He said other types of plastic are recycled at stores along with bags, and outright bag ban would disrupt that activity.
Plastic bags are an environmentally responsible alternative to paper bags when recycled and used in other reduction-minded ways, Christman said, adding that reusable bags should remain a choice but are not practical for everyone. “And that’s eliminated with this kind of proposal,” he said.
But Pasadena resident Victoria Kaleta Knapp wonders why the city has been so slow to take up a ban. She swore off plastic bags for five reusable canvas bags in June 2007, but it took some convincing. “Truth be told, Oprah did a show on easy, environmentally friendly things that we could all do and sold reusable canvas grocery bags,” Knapp said.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors last year approved a bag on single-use plastic bags in Altadena and other unincorporated areas. The ban takes effect at some markets in July and by 2012 will extend to all stores in unincorporated areas. Customers will have to use reusable bags or pay a 10-cent fee for a paper bag. County officials estimate households use 1,600 bags a year and expected that figure to fall by half by 2013 and shave $4 million from cleanup costs.
Malibu and Long Beach have also enacted bag bans. Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes Altadena, voted against the ban.
The Environmental Advisory Commission meets at 6 p.m. tonight in the Council Chamber at Pasadena City Hall, 100 N. Garfield Ave., Pasadena.