WEST HOLLYWOOD, California, August 10, 2012 (ENS) - The West Hollywood City Council has approved an ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags at the point of sale in all retail stores in the city, aside from farmers markets, restaurants, and dry cleaners.
Wedged between Los Angeles and Beverley Hills, West Hollywood is one of 88 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County. Some of the country's best known film and design studios, music venues, shops, restaurants and hotels are found here.
With its environmentally-conscious population, West Hollywood adopted one of the nation's first mandatory green building ordinances in 2007. On Monday, City Council unanimously approved the plastic bag ban.
West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang said, "Plastic bags have an enormous environmental impact throughout the county. They litter the streets and streams and the ocean. It also takes a tremendous amount of resources to produce them, and then they are used once and thrown away."
The environmental impact of the ordinance was assessed by the City of West Hollywood in an Addendum to the County of Los Angeles' certified Environmental Impact Report (EIR), adopted by the County Board of Supervisors on November 26, 2010.
In preparing the 150-page Addendum, West Hollywood staff conducted an environmental review to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. While CEQA does not require a formal comment period for an Addendum to a previously certified EIR, West Hollywood collected comments on the Addendum in a 27-day public comment period that ended on July 30.
One week later, the ordinance was passed by Council.
As an example of the amount of plastic bag litter found in catch basins, the Addendum states that plastic bags constituted 25 percent by weight and 19 percent by volume of the trash collected from 30 catch basins in the Los Angeles River during just one year of the Great Los Angeles River Clean Up.
According to research conducted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works, some six billion plastic carryout bags are consumed in the county each year, amounting to about 1,600 bags per household per year.
Survey data obtained by the county from employees of solid waste facilities within the county conclusively indicated that plastic carryout bags pose serious operational problems for landfills and cause "serious litter issues due to their lightweight nature and propensity to become airborne."
The County of Los Angeles Flood Control District alone spends more than $18 million annually for prevention, cleanup, and enforcement efforts to reduce litter.
West Hollywood City staff says the ban is intended to encourage sustainability by substituting plastic bags with durable, long-lasting reusable bags, and paper bags made from recycled materials.
Retailers will be able to charge a 10-cent fee for paper bags, which must contain 40 percent post-consumer recycled content. The retailers will keep the fees to help cover the costs of stocking paper bags and any related outreach or promotional efforts. Customers who qualify for subsidized groceries will be exempt from the paper bag fee.
Staff says that with this ban the city also aims to reduce costs to businesses, consumers, taxpayers, and the environment, eliminate waste, litter and marine debris, and create local green jobs.
Supermarkets and large retailers with stores over 10,000 square feet will no longer be able to supply plastic bags six months after the effective date of the ordinance.
Small stores and pharmacies under 10,000 square feet will have up to 12 months to comply.
The city's planning staff says West Hollywood has about 890 retail stores, but the ban affects only 490 stores, as the other retailers are service providers that do not need plastic carryout bags.
The nonprofit Heal the Bay, based in Santa Monica, is pleased with the vote after years of working to raise public awareness of the environmental damage done by throw-away plastic bags.
Heal the Bay communications director Matthey King told reporters, "The key thing people have to understand is that there is an economic impact. Public Works spends a lot of money cleaning this stuff up, and that is money we would rather see go to schools and other worthy causes."
Numerous California city and county governments have banned plastic carryout bags, including the City and County of San Francisco, Palo Alto, Calabasas, Solana Beach, Fairfax and Los Angeles City and County.
Of the 88 cities in the County of Los Angeles, at least six - Pasadena, Long Beach, Calabasas, Santa Monica, Malibu, and Manhattan Beach - had adopted plastic carryout bag bans at the time the Addendum was prepared.
The California Legislature is currently considering a statewide plastic bag ban authored by Assemblywomen Julia Brownley, an Oak Park Democrat.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: West Hollywood City Hall. Credit: Gary Minaert.