Los Angeles on Tuesday became the largest city in the nation to move toward a ban on plastic grocery bags, with the City Council barring them in supermarkets, convenience stores and any big retailer that sells groceries.
Nearly three weeks after a similar measure was defeated in the California Legislature, the City Council voted 11-1 to prohibit the so-called "single use" plastic bags in pharmacies, food markets and any large store -- including Target and Wal-Mart -- that has a grocery section.
Councilman Paul Koretz described the ban as one of several environmental initiatives that have been embraced by the city, including a clean-truck program at the Port of Los Angeles and a push to build new rail lines. “Today we're taking another big step forward," he said.
Added Councilman Paul Krekorian: "Enough waiting for the Legislature to act on this."
Tuesday's vote offered a sweeping victory for environmental activists. Once the ban goes into effect, around one-fourth of California's population will be covered by laws that will move consumers toward reusable bags, said Kirsten James, who handles water policy for the advocacy group Heal the Bay.
"This is the biggest city in the nation to tackle the single-use bag addiction," James said. "It sends a strong signal to Sacramento that we need a statewide policy."
L.A.'s ordinance, first embraced by the council in March 2012, will be phased in over the next year, reaching large stores on Jan. 1 and smaller ones on July 1, 2014. Customers who want paper bags will have to pay 10 cents for each one, according to the ordinance.
Opponents of the ban referred to the paper bag fee as an unfair tax. And they argued that it will hurt business in the region, particularly the plastic-bag makers that operate in the southeast section of Los Angeles County.
Cathy Browne, general manager at Huntington Park-based bag maker Crown Poly, said an unspecified number of employees will lose their jobs if the law passes. More than 50% of the plant’s business is in plastic grocery bags used in Los Angeles and other localities, she said.
Browne, whose company has 300 employees, said the measure also would create a new burden to Angelenos who reuse plastic bags for trash and pet waste. "Consumers like plastic bags," she said. "So when they shop at a retail store that has a ban they’ll shop elsewhere."
Because Councilman Bernard C. Parks voted against the measure, a second vote will be needed next week. But no one involved in Tuesday's debate expects the outcome to change. A signature from the mayor -- whether it be the outgoing Antonio Villaraigosa or his successor, Eric Garcetti -- is also expected.
Businesses that fail to comply with the law would face a fine of $100 for the first violation, $200 after the second and $500 after the third. Fines would be imposed for each day the violation continues.
Backers of the measure contend it will create jobs, fueling such programs as the nonprofit Green Vets LA, which has put veterans to work manufacturing reusable cloth bags. Jim Cragg, the group’s director, said he had hired 100 people to sew those bags.
“I’ve actually hired one person from the plastic bag [industry],” he said.
Sanitation officials estimate that 2 billion plastic bags are distributed in the city each year.