Ruling Revives Call for Banning Plastic Bags


BYOB Gets New Definition

At most local grocery stores, customers who bring in their own bags are still the odd-man-out. But a decision by the California Supreme Court earlier this month that upholds Manhattan Beach’s ban on plastic bags could require shoppers in Laguna to bring their own bag.

“We’re moving ahead to ban plastic bags,” Councilwoman Jane Egly, liaison to the council-appointed Environmental Committee, said this week. “We’re already working on our agenda bill.” If passed, the ban won’t be immediate, Egly said, but will likely provide a transition period for stores to either phase out or start charging for both plastic and paper bags.

“I want to get rid of the plastic bags, charge or no charge,” she vowed, adding that she still uses the recycled-plastic bags she handed out at Halloween three years ago during a re-election campaign.

Laguna considered a plastic bag ban in 2008, but decided to hold off until the lawsuit against Manhattan Beach was resolved.  Save the Plastic Bag Coalition sued Manhattan Beach, arguing that barring the distribution of polyethylene bags also required an environmental impact report, which could cost more than $60,000, which Laguna wanted to avoid, as well as a similar lawsuit.

Despite the state Supreme Court’s decision favoring the plastic bag ban in Manhattan Beach due to the town’s small size and its limited environmental impact, Stephen L. Joseph, attorney for San Francisco-based Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, intends to keep up the pressure. “Definitely, Laguna Beach will be required to do an EIR and we’ll be demanding one,” he said.

Joseph said the court ruling allows groups like his to push for environmental review in tandem with plastic bag bans in larger cities as well as smaller municipalities where there could be a negative cumulative effect on the environment.  The problem would come from merchants switching from plastic and a consequent increase in the disposal of paper and reusable bags, he said.

The coalition sued Manhattan Beach, alleging that banning plastic would increase the negative environmental effects of using more paper and reusable bags in landfills and the ocean.  The recent decision overturning the appeal concurred on this point, stating that it was undisputed that paper bags have a greater negative impact on the environment than plastic bags due to manufacturing, transporting, recycling and disposal practices.  Joseph added that decomposing paper releases methane gas, an alleged culprit for unnatural climate changes.  The court also noted that Manhattan Beach favored reusable bags as opposed to paper bags as a more eco-compatible alternative.

But reusable bags are also becoming an environmental concern, according to Joseph, because landfills are being swamped by them. He noted that a Los Angeles County EIR stated that a reusable bag must be used 104 times to offset damaging environmental impacts as compared to plastic bags.

Manhattan Beach appealed to the state Supreme Court to overturn the two lower court decisions prohibiting that city’s ban on plastic bags.  The lower courts’ decisions were based on the argument that other environmental problems would arise from using a greater number of paper bags, which would require environmental review. The state Supreme Court reversed the ruling, stating that an environmental impact report was not required by Manhattan Beach due to its size as well as the number of retail outlets there.

If a plastic bag ban is approved in Laguna, customers at Ralph’s Grocery will be asked to bring their own bags or buy the store’s reusable variety, said Kevin Tate, a store manager.  The number of Ralph’s supermarkets eliminating plastic bags increased dramatically last year with some stores charging 10 cents for paper bags, depending on the local ordinance, said spokeswoman Kendra Doyel.

Scott McDermott, who started the anti-litter community brigade Zero Trash Laguna four years ago, still feels like a renegade when he carries canvas bags to the check-out counter. And if he forgets, “I absolutely try to get whatever I can hold in my hands,” he said, adding that plastic bags “are too readily available.”

IMAX filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, whose films often promote preserving nature, was an early backer of a plastic bag ban in Laguna Beach. He said he, too, sometimes comes up short-a-bag at the grocery store. “Once it’s not offered as the easy alternative at the supermarket, you won’t see as many bags blowing down the road and you won’t see them in the ocean,” he said.

MacGillivray suggests that the plastic-bag industry go biodegradable as an economic alternative.   Save the Plastic Bag’s Joseph agreed that biodegradable plastic would be better, as long as that’s not banned, too.

The proposed ban on plastic bags will be presented to the council in September.



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