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CITYWIDE — Assuming Gov. Jerry Brown signs SB 270 (which he’s said he likely will) California will become the first state to enact a plastic bag ban.
But for Santa Monica it’s old news. City Hall launched its own ban three years ago this month, and environmentalists have deemed it a huge success.
“We’ve reduced the amount of plastic bags by 78 million plastic bags since our ordinance went into effect,” said Josephine Miller, a sustainability analyst with City Hall’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment.
In three years she’s received only 98 officials complaints and, of the 1,871 retailers impacted by the ban, no one has requested an exemption.
There have been 162 warnings given to retailers and only two citations, which, she said, were quickly remedied.
The ban, Miller said, went hand-in-hand with the polystyrene ban in 2007.
“We were so successful with implementing that polystyrene ban, with very little push-back from the stores, a lot of support,” she said, “that getting the bag ordinance through in 2011, the community was really ready for it and very impatient for it.”
City Hall has purchased 44,000 washable, reusable bags from Green Vets L.A., which employs veterans to make the bags. City Hall distributes these bags for free.
“We have made great steps,” Miller said, “but, of course, all of the trash comes down and runs into our bay from L.A. County so we definitely celebrate a statewide ordinance that will help reduce all the litter that comes down to the bay.”
Still, Miller said, Santa Monica’s ban is having an obvious impact. Others agree.
“We are hearing anecdotally that there are fewer bags being found at clean-ups but don’t have data at this point,” said Kirsten James, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica-based nonprofit Heal The Bay.
Benjamin Kay, a Santa Monica High School teacher, worked with students on a 19-month study that examined the impacts of the ban. Kay, along with the students and a UCLA statistics professor, are pursuing publication of the study, which found that before the ban 70 percent of grocery store patrons used plastic bags. Now, according to the study, no one is using plastic bags, 30 percent of those surveyed are using paper bags, another 30 percent are using reusable bags, and 40 percent are opting not to use bags at all.
After the polystyrene ban, Miller noticed that people began to feel ashamed to be seen with Styrofoam.
“The same trend is happening now,” she said. “People are embarrassed to be seen with a plastic bag. You’re seeing more and more people embrace the hip, reusable bag. For me, the litmus test is the high school. There’s a lot more ownership of having a cool bag.”

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