Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Plastic Bag Changes Coming to Long Beach

LONG BEACH: Big businesses will switch to reusable sacks Aug. 1, smaller stores Jan. 1.

By Kristopher Hanson Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Businesses across the city are gearing up for a plastic bag ban that begins Aug. 1, but its long-term impact on customers and retailers remains unknown.

The ban, enacted by the City Council in May, makes Long Beach the 12th city or county in California to enact restrictions on plastic bags since San Francisco launched the first ordinance in 2007.

The measure takes effect in two phases. About 66 larger retailers, such as super­markets, drug-store chains and stores including Target and Walmart, are banned from distributing the bags begin­ning Aug. 1, with an estimated 2,000 smaller corner markets, liquor stores and others impacted Jan. 1.

Businesses not offering perishable foods, such as clothiers and sporting goods outlets, are exempt.

The city enacted the law to reduce litter and lessen environmental harm to wild­life, beaches and waterways.

“We’ve estimated there are roughly 1,600 (lightweight) plastic bags used per household every year in Long Beach, and maybe 5 percent are recycled,” said Jim Kuhl, manager of Long Beach’s Environ­mental Services Bureau. “These bags end up on our streets, on our beaches, storm drains. We expect this (ordinance) to help tremendously with our ongoing efforts to reduce litter throughout Long Beach and further the community’s environmental sustainability programs.”

The new Long Beach law is crafted largely from a similar ban recently enacted in unincorporated Los Angeles County.

“We’ve seen estimates that about 19 bil­lion single-use plastic bags are distributed in California each year,” Kuhl said. “It creates a huge waste problem, with these bags blowing through the streets and fill­ing up landfills.”

The ban also imposes a 10-cent fee on paper shopping bags, which will be avail­able at some stores. Single-use plastic bags that consumers have stored away can con­tinue to be used without penalty.

However, the goal is to encourage shop­pers to use the reusable bags already sold or given away at most supermarkets and other retailers.

The city has distributed about 62,000 reusable bags to residents in the past 15 years and plans to continue distributing the totes in coming years.

Retailers have also announced a number of free or low-cost giveaways of reusable bags in recent months in anticipation of the ban.

Target stores in Long Beach, for example, will offer free reusable bags to all consumers on Aug. 1 and will sell them for 50 cents each through Aug. 31, the chain has announced.

The city’s five Vons supermarkets, meanwhile, will be offering 15,000 reusable bags to shoppers who spend at least $25 at their stores beginning July 29, store officials said.

A study by the United Nations Environment Program estimates reusable bags can be used more than 150 times, though life-span varies by the material used to make the bag. Bags are most frequently manufactured from canvas, cotton or woven synthetic fibers, though some are crafted from hemp, which carries anti-mildew properties, the UN agency noted.

Naveen Choda, owner of Eddie’s Jr. Market in the 2300 block of Pacific Coast Highway, one of those affected by the Jan. 1 deadline, said he welcomed the initiative.

“We pay quite a bit for these plastic bags, and they’re terrible for the environment,” Choda said. “We’re way behind the curve on this. Other countries have had restrictions like this for years, but at least (city officials are) finally putting something in effect. I’m sick of seeing (plastic bags) blowing around the parking lot, in the street, on the beach. We need to take better care of our planet.”

Choda plans to offer customers paper bags or sell reusable bags for a small fee.

“We’ll start letting people know about the program in the next few months, and I’m encouraging them to bring in their own bags,” Choda said. “Some will complain, but they’ll adapt.”

Vivian Rodriguez, who was shopping at an Albertson’s store in downtown Long Beach on a recent afternoon, had mixed feelings, saying it would be inconvenient, though should help reduce trash.

“I guess I’m for it, but we’ll have to keep those reusable bags stashed in the car so we don’t end up paying for new ones every time we go shopping,” Rodriguez said. “I’m already stockpiling (single-use) bags because I like to use them for trash can linings and when we take the dog out.”

Public health officials are encouraging shoppers to wash their bags after every few uses and avoid leaving meat exposed inside the bags for long.

The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services is working with the city’s Environmental Services Bureau to ensure residents and businesses understand the new rules and promote free giveaways.

“We’ve already completed all the outreach to the major retailers, and they’re ready to go Aug. 1, but we’ve identified about 2,000 smaller businesses who will be impacted with the second phase on Jan. 1,” Kuhl said. “The health department and our department will divide up areas, visit shopkeepers and explain the ordinance, and we’ll be doing outreach through mail and phone. We want this to go as smooth as possible, so the plan is to try and talk with as many businesses as possible and see what we can do to help them with the transition.”

If Long Beach’s bag ban mirrors similar plans enacted in parts of the United States, Mexico, China, Taiwan, Ireland, United Kingdom, South Africa, Singapore, Germany and elsewhere, the unsightly scene of lightweight plastic bags stuck in trees and bushes, flowing down the Los Angeles River, and blowing across the street may soon be a relic.

A study by environmental groups in Ireland, where a tax on plastic bags was imposed in 2002, showed use of them dropped 94 percent within weeks of the law.

In Washington, D.C., where a 5-cent tax on plastic bags was enacted, the number of bags distributed by food retailers fell from 22.5 million per month to 3.3 million per month, according to Worldwatch Institute, an environmental advocacy group.

Closer to home, in the year after San Francisco banned plastic bags at pharmacies and supermarkets in 2007, the city’s Environmental Department reported businesses distributed 127 million fewer plastic bags and cut overall bag waste reaching the city landfill by up to 10 percent.

The city’s rivers, canals and beaches should also benefit.

Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, says plastic bags are the second most-common form of litter, behind cigarette butts, and are the most common form of litter in the planet’s oceans.

The UN says plastic bags cause the deaths of 100,000 sea turtles and other marine animals that mistake them for food each year.

To learn more about the program, free bag giveaways, affected stores and other litter- reduction programs in Long Beach, visit www.litterfreelb.org.