California endangered species: Plastic bags

They have been banned in nearly 100 municipalities, including Los Angeles.

NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICEFebruary 26, 2014 

On a recent drizzly day, Esha Moya found herself standing outside a grocery store in South Los Angeles, her half-dozen paper bags falling apart in the rain, wishing she had a few small items that had been free and plentiful her entire life but are now banned in this city: plastic shopping bags.

"I hate this," said Moya, a mother of two. She has begun stockpiling plastic bags at home because paper bags "are always breaking," she said. "It's stupid, and it makes it really hard for us."

A companion to shoppers for a half-century, the plastic bag is now under siege in California, where a growing number of policymakers have come to regard it as a symbol of environmental wastefulness.

Paper bags, which are biodegradable and easier to recycle, are often available for a small fee.

And now, lawmakers in Sacramento are trying to make California the first state to approve a blanket ban on this most ubiquitous of consumer products.

"It has become increasingly clear to the public the environmental damage that single-use plastic bags have reaped," said Alex Padilla, a state senator who is sponsoring legislation for a statewide ban. "This is the beginning of the phaseout of single-use plastic bags — period."

Padilla's measure would ban traditional single-use plastic bags at supermarkets, liquor stores and other locations where they have long been standbys. Paper bags and more robust, reusable plastic bags will be available for a 10-cent fee, with the goal of forcing shoppers to remember their canvas bags.

The case against plastic shopping bags is simple and, with more than 150 communities across the country embracing some kind of anti-bag laws, increasingly familiar. Plastic bags are used once or twice but can last up to a millennium.

In just a few years, local bans on plastic bags have spread from San Francisco to Honolulu to the North Shore of Massachusetts. Washington, D.C., has imposed a 5-cent fee.

Some environmentalists say they now believe they have the momentum to push bans across the country, starting with California.

"It's very effective, and it's very cost-effective," said Kerrie Romanow, director of environmental services for San Jose, Calif.

Since San Jose's ban took effect in 2012, plastic-bag litter in storm drains, which can contribute to flooding, has fallen by 89 percent.

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