5 Things You Should Know About LA’s Plastic Bag Ban

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I’ll admit: I’m a little O.C.D. when it comes to limiting the amount of plastic bags I use. That doesn’t mean I always remember my reusable bag when I’m at the grocery store, but when I do forget it, I go to the extreme to not use a new one, preferring instead to pull one out of the store’s plastic bag recycling bin. The thing is, they’re practically all brand new in there anyways. We’ve become a society addicted to over consumption. It sickens me to see how many packages of ketchup and unused napkins go into the trash at fast food joints, but what makes me really angry is the amount of plastics bags people waste when checking out. I mean, do you really need to double a bag for a box of tissues?!

So when I heard about the plastic bag ban that went into effect on January 1 in unincorporated Los Angeles County, which includes my community of East L.A., I was thrilled. But I also knew that, like in most laws, there had to be flaws here, so I hopped on my bike this Saturday to check out the small chain stores that this new ordinance affects. (The ban officially went into effect July 1, 2011 on larger stores.) My investigation took me to El Super and Superior on Cesar Chavez Avenue and 7-Eleven on Beverly Boulevard.

Here are five things I learned about the ban:

1. Location, location, location. Not all stores have to ban plastic bags; only about 644 grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and food marts located in unincorporated L.A. County that are at least 10,000 square feet and make over $2 million a year. L.A.’s Department of Works info line, 1-888-CLEAN LA, fails to explain why only this segment of L.A. is affected and if/when the whole city will eventually adopt a similar ordinance. Some cities within L.A. County have passed similar ordinances, including Malibu, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Calabasas.

2. Paper, not plastic. You can no longer get the typical plastic bag at most of these stores, but for 10 cents you can get a paper bag. However, if you’re on food stamps, paper bags are free. Awkwardly enough, El Super sells these huge plastic bags they’re calling “reusable” for 16 cents. Not sure how they got away with this, but at least they’re made with 60% recycled material.

3. B.Y.O.B. (Bring your own bag!) We’re all struggling. Do you really want to spend more money on paper bags every time you buy groceries in East Los? I doubt it. Reusable bags are cheap and sold everywhere these days. It just takes time to get in the habit of always having them on hand. Or just scrounge up all those plastic bags left in your house and reuse them.

4. Most customers are pissed. “It’s just not fair that only certain stores are doing this,” said a customer outside Superior Grocers. On the other hand, the majority of the workers I spoke to agree with the ban. Sonia, a cashier at El Super, said it shows responsibility for helping the environment. Josue, a cashier at 7-Eleven, said it’s just going to take time for customers to understand where the ban is coming from. He’s all for a cleaner environment.

5. Money from the bag charge goes back towards the cause. While I am concerned that mom-and-pop shops may suffer financially if customers choose to go elsewhere to avoid paying for paper bags, the money collected by the store can be used to educate customers on how pollutant plastic bags are.