File photo

File photo

LOS ANGELES  — Los Angeles is one council vote away from becoming the nation’s largest city to pass a ban on plastic grocery bags, which officials say will stop the flow of 2 billion single-use bags that are distributed each year and often end up in gutters and on beaches.

The City Council voted 11-1 Tuesday in favor of the ban. Since it failed to earn unanimous approval, the ordinance will face a second vote next week.

The Santa Monica City Council banned single-use plastic bags in 2011. Grocery stores charge those who wish to use paper bags 10 cents each.

Los Angeles “took a stand today for our children to protect our environment, which also sends a strong and clear message to every big city in the nation that they should follow our lead,” said Councilmember Jose Huizar, who chairs the Energy and Environment Committee.

The ban would apply to convenience stores, supermarkets and large retailers, such as Walmart, that sell perishable foods. Stores would be prohibited from handing out single-use bags and would pay fines ranging from $100 to $500 for violations. Shoppers would have to bring their own reusable bags or pay 10 cents for each paper bag.

The ordinance would take effect Jan. 1 for large stores, while smaller stores will have until July 2014 to comply.

Officials from the Bureau of Sanitation said the 10-cent surcharge would be used to offset any additional costs stores have to make the switch, adding that any remaining funds would be used to educate the public about proper care for reusable bags.

Sanitation authorities estimate about 2 billion plastic bags are distributed in the city each year. That’s more than 228,000 bags every hour.

Proponents of the ban said the bags litter cities and beaches and endanger wildlife. Councilman Bill Rosendahl, a long-time supporter of the ban, said the law was a “no brainer.”

“Go see what plastic does to a fish, what it does to a food chain, what it does to life itself,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “This is a historic step in the right direction.”

Representatives for plastic manufacturers have argued the ordinance would cost jobs, and others opposed to the ban said reusable bags could pose a health risk because they are prone to bacteria. Sanitation representatives said the bags are safe to use because each one comes with cleaning instructions.

Councilmember Bernard Parks, who cast the sole dissenting vote, said the ordinance would place a burden on many residents.

“We are putting it on their shoulders to maneuver through this phase of the economy,” he told the council. “Many of them are trying to figure out how to buy food.”

Los Angeles County and other cities around the state, including San Francisco and Santa Monica, already have bans in place.

L.A.’s vote came a month after a similar measure failed in the California Legislature that would have barred grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies from handing out single-use plastic bags. It was the fifth such bill to fail in the state Senate since 2010.

Santa Monica-based environmental watchdog Heal the Bay, which lobbied the council to pass the ban for six years, called the council’s vote “historic” and said L.A. can serve as a “model for our state and the rest of the nation.”

“The vote further emphasizes that the time has come for us to move past the wasteful convenience of a plastic bag to sustainable reusable bags,” said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s science and policy director for water quality.

California municipalities spend nearly $25 million each year to collect and dispose of plastic bag waste, Heal the Bay said in a press release. Less than 5 percent of plastic grocery bags are recycled each year statewide, the nonprofit said.

 

editor@smdp.com

 

Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera contributed to this report.