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Los Angeles moved a step closer to a sweeping ban on single-use plastic and paper bags Wednesday as the city's Board of Public Works unanimously approved a report urging the mayor and the City Council to adopt a citywide ban on single-use carryout bags.
The board voted 4-0 to endorse the ban on single-use bags and directed the Bureau of Sanitation to begin the environmental review process required under state rules. It also requested a draft ordinance from the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office.
In a 14-page report that will be forwarded to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council, the Bureau of Sanitation estimated the ban would go into effect in September 2012.
A similar ban on single-use plastic bags was approved in November by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for retailers in unincorporated parts of the county. The ban went into effect July 1 for supermarkets and will go into effect Jan. 1, 2012, for liquor stores and convenience markets.
Other municipalities in California that have passed single-use plastic bag bans include San Francisco, Santa Monica, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Calabasas and Long Beach.
Plastic bag litter has been an issue at City Hall since 2004, when a task force was created to fight the amount of single-use plastic bags in the city's waterways. In January 2008, the City Council adopted a policy statement with the goal of banning plastic carryout bags, starting in January 2010.
City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Paul Krekorian in September introduced a motion directing the Bureau of Sanitation to create an implementation plan for a single-use bag ban that would include both plastic and paper bags.
It is estimated that 1.2 to 2.3 billion single-use plastic carryout bags and 400 million single-use paper bags are used annually in Los Angeles. The board's report said studies have shown that single-use paper bags have greater greenhouse gas emissions through their production and use than a single-use plastic bag and therefore should also be banned.
The suggested ordinance would require retailers to provide customers with reusable bags for sale or for free. Produce bags to carry meats and produce in the store will still be allowed.
The board's commissioners voted after listening to more than two hours of testimony from workers at plastic bag manufacturing plants in the county and environmentalists who said plastic bags remain one of the top pollutants in the ocean and waterways.
Carlos Medrano, 34, who works at bag manufacturer Crown Poly in Huntington Park, said he has worked his way up to supervisor during his five years with the company.
"If I lose my job, it's not that easy to find another job that has all the benefits we have right now," Medrano told the commissioners.
He urged the city to focus on recycling plastic instead of implementing a plastic bag ban. Several other workers who spoke in Spanish said they were single mothers and worried about supporting their families if a plastic bag ban is approved.
Stephen Joseph, an attorney for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, said there were 4,200 workers nationwide who make plastic bags and said a plastic bag ban would lead to lost jobs.
"Eighty-five percent of all plastic bags are made in the U.S.; we don't have a lot of manufacturing left," Joseph said.
Kirsten James, water quality director for Heal the Bay, said the nonprofit group does about 400 beach and waterway cleanups a year and single-use plastic bags are perennially one of the most found pollutants.
Andy Shrader, a grassroots activist who supports plastic bag bans, told the commissioners how he has been going to neighborhood councils in the city to educate them about plastics pollution, and that 17 councils representing some 700,000 residents have passed resolutions supporting a ban on plastic bags.