Wednesday, May 23rd saw Los Angeles take a landmark step in changing our shopping habits for the better by outright banning the use of plastic bags in supermarkets and stores. In the 13‐1 vote, LA councilors declared that they would be siding with the clean water advocates – which include actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus – who have been pressuring LA to implement an anti-bag law in recent years. The councilors hope to reduce the amount of non‐biodegradable plastics that are currently clogging up their landfills, waterways, and the ocean.
The law plans to completely phase out the use of plastic bags over a year’s time in 7,500 stores. Larger supermarkets have 6 months to stop using them, whereas smaller stores have the full 12-month phase‐out period. Additionally, once plastic bags have been fully banned, another law will be put into place that adds a 10 cent tax on paper bags.
LA isn’t the only US city to ban or add a tax on disposable bags; it’s only the latest addition in a long list of 48 other California cities, which include San Jose, San Francisco, and Long Beach. However, LA’s stature as one of the largest cities in the US certainly adds more heft to the environmentally conscious movement – especially in light of its use of over 2.3 billion plastic bags each year. While a daunting task, the councilors are optimistic that the city will be able to take the ban in stride and lead the way for a more statewide ban.
Let’s hope the international community is taking these actions to heart. LA’s environmentally progressive move comes in stark contrast with Toronto’s counter-progressive decision to try and remove the city’s 5 cent plastic bag fee. Feeling the fee to be unnecessary and inconvenient, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford cites public resistance as a signal that he should start fighting against the bylaw.
Introduced in 2009 by then-mayor David Miller, the small fee has reduced the city’s bag consumption by over 50%, reducing annual use from 457 million bags to just over 200 million. What’s more is that stores generate over $10 million from the fee alone – revenue which Toronto can tap into to support other environmental initiatives.
Despite these benefits, Mayor Ford is still adamantly against the fee; it remains to be seen if he will be able to convince enough councilors to support his decision.
With LA’s councilors ready and willing to introduce much stronger bans against plastic and paper bags, perhaps other cities will get the message that plastic bags are just too damaging to the environment. The one-time convenience of non-degradable plastic is an indication of our unsustainable habits, which prefers short- term comfort to long‐term damage.
Yes, fees and bans are an inconvenience, especially for cities that are used to liberal plastic bag consumption. However, if we are to truly move forward as an environmentally progressive society, these steps are necessary in order to change our ways. With more and more cities willing joining this movement, Mayor Ford and the rest of the international community may soon see the great role these small fees have on our society.