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LA becomes largest US city to ban single-use plastic bags

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The Ralphs supermarket chain is among those impacted by a plastic and paper bag ban approved Wednesday in Los Angeles. Many neighboring jurisdictions already have similar bans in place.

Withstanding a strong lobby from the plastic bag industry, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a ban on single-use plastic bags at checkout counters as well as a 10-cent fee on paper bags.

With a population of 4 million -- and using an estimated 2.7 billion plastic bags each year -- Los Angeles becomes the largest city in the U.S. to enact a ban and joins 47 other cities in California alone. 

"This is a tipping point" for banning plastic bags around the world, City Councilman Paul Koretz, a ban sponsor, declared just before the 13-1 vote.

The industry counters that the ban will be bad for the environment and health and will cost local jobs.

Reusable bags "are hazardous because consumers seldom wash them, and they have been found to transport bacteria," Mark Daniels, chair of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, told msnbc.com, citing a case earlier this month of girls getting norovirus from cookies left in a reusable bag.

"Plastic bags make up a fraction a percent of the litter stream," Daniels added, citing a 2009 litter survey. "A policy to target and ban one product will not address the root issue" of pollution.

City staff countered at Wednesday's meeting that 43 percent of Los Angeles' trash is plastic and that the largest component of that plastic is plastic bags at 19 percent.

Daniels added that "reusables cannot be recycled" but city staff insisted standards would be adopted to make that a requirement.

As for jobs, city staff noted that the 750 jobs at companies making plastic bags in the area are not in the city, but in the county.

Large stores are allowed to phase out plastic bags over six months and then provide free paper bags for another six months. Small retailers will have a year to phase out plastic.

After a year, retailers will be allowed to charge 10 cents for paper bags -- a "disincentive" designed to steer consumers to reusable bags.

The council did back away from also banning paper bags, which would have made it the only city to ban both plastic and paper.

Koretz said the city would study the issue again in two years to see whether the 10 cent fee was enough to reduce paper bags.

The city ban was modeled on one enacted by Los Angeles County, with a population of 10 million. A state court is hearing an appeal in a lawsuit against the county ban after the plaintiffs, a plastic bag maker among them, lost a lower court ruling.

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City Council members who supported the ban noted that the vote was about creating environmental awareness among Angelenos.

"Let's not stop with plastic bags," said Councilman Richard Alarcon. 

The ban will go into effect after a standard environmental review, which is expected to take four months.

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