Well, this year is off to a great start for the environmental forces. Washington D.C. has imposed a 5 cent tax on those annoying plastic bags I keep going on about. Washington D.C. — land of bureaucracy, a crack loving mayor and no federal representation (well almost none) — is actually ahead of our fair burg in the environmental race.

When last I wrote about plastic bags, I sent an e-mail to Councilmember Kevin McKeown seeking an update. My deadline arrived too quickly, but he did respond and I want to print his response.

McKeown wrote me that “The Master Environmental Assessment (MEA) being done statewide by a consortium of jurisdictions (with Santa Monica in the lead) is due to be completed in February, definitely later than anticipated. We’re not going to wait; we’re hoping to have an EIR consultant start work in early January so the initial work on the EIR is done when the MEA figures are ready to plug in. That EIR has to be circulated, etc.; staff is hoping to have the ordinance (which is already written!) back before council by April or May at the latest.”

I was provided with a link to the proposed ordinance, and have read it.  The ban is on the plastic bags that we take home our groceries in. It will not effect the “product bags” like the ones we use to put vegetables in. As an alternative for the outright banning of plastic bags, there will be the use of paper bags. But that too has a rather high environmental cost and to curb the excessive use of the paper bags the ordinance suggests an initial tax of 25 cents per bag, with a minimum of 10 cents per bag to be retained by the retailers to offset their costs for enforcement of the ordinance.

It will be interesting to see over the long term how the D.C. tax compares with our proposed outright ban. If, as I believe, the imposition of a small tax drastically reduces consumption, then they’ve made great progress. If our actual ban does go into effect, as Councilmember McKeown is committed to, then I expect we shall see a profound difference, along the same lines as has happened in San Francisco where people just carry reusable bags.

McKeown continues with, “No, I’m not happy that the plastic bag industry has managed to stall us this long. I first put the matter before the council on Oct. 9, 2007. Samohi students have been great supporters, and I’m committed to getting this passed before another class graduates.”

I’d like to see that happen also. I first wrote of this topic four years ago. That’s a huge amount of tax revenue that has gone uncollected. It’s a bigger amount of trash that has entered the stream of contamination and spoliation that is contributing to a toxic Pacific Ocean.

There’s a video that’s making the Facebook rounds about the buildup of plastics in the ocean. Now this not some loony tunes, Aluminum Hat Brigade conspiracy minded group of eco-warriors who are out to destroy the long suffering plastics manufacturers. This is a scientist being showcased on Good Morning America. The video is appalling and shocking. The way in which we humans are running our planet is appalling.  

When I lived in Westwood, we had a neighbor who was a hoarder. She was clearly mentally unbalanced. She would gather all the recyclables in the neighborhood and pile them in her backyard. Once a year or so, the city would come out and cite her, then they would come with a dump truck and a warrant and clean out the public nuisance on private land.

As a race, we are doing something very similar with our planet. We are creating a public nuisance, and the problem is that no one is coming to clean up the mess.

I wrote a column a few years back where I said that the only way we could get world peace would be for a common enemy, preferably aliens, to force us to put aside our petty differences. I still believe that we need a common enemy, I’m just coming to the conclusion that the common enemy may be the effects of our own bad behavior.

It’s a big planet, there are lots of chores to be done around here to keep it neat and tidy. The push for a ban on those plastic bags is but one step in a long battle to maintain a clean and healthy planet.


David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at dpisarra@pisarra.com or (310) 664-9969.

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