L.A. Does Something Environmental

November 17, 2010

plastic bag In a move that many could interpret as completely out of character, the city of Los Angeles approved a measure that promises long-term environmental change for one of the most polluted cities in the country.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ban plastic shopping bags generously doled out by supermarkets and pharmacies, as well as restaurants, retail outlets, and a long list of others. The ban will be executed in phases and impact an estimated 1.1 million shoppers and target large-chain supermarkets and pharmacies first.

By January 2012, the ban will cover 1,000 stores throughout the county. The ordinance also seeks to keep shoppers from turning to paper bags as an alternative by requiring stores to levy a 10-cent surcharge per paper bag.

Instead, supervisors are hoping the ban will encourage shoppers to adopt reusable bags fashioned out of cloth and the like.

The statistics are pretty compelling. 6 billion plastic bags are used each year in Los Angeles alone, far too many of which wind up in the ocean.

Though the ban is clearly set with good intentions, there are concerns that the measure could impact low-income folks who will be forced to buy bags (say to pick up dog waste) and mom-and-pop stores who won’t have the same access to paper bags and reusable bags as large chains.

So what’s to be done? Should environmental choices such as bringing your own bag to the store be just that, a choice, or can consumers’ patterns only be changed with government-mandated reforms like this?