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Ban the Bag, Or Pay the Price

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"Paper or Plastic?" is the somewhat innocuous and expected question we're faced each time we check out at the grocery store. But what if that question came with a price tag, like 15 cents for every plastic bag we required when making a purchase? Or what if we banned the bag altogether?

If a Van Nuys man's proposal becomes law, shoppers might have to pony up the cash in order to carry out in plastic. According to ABC7, "Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, has a proposal that would force more stores to reduce the number of plastic bags they give out -- a 35 percent by 2011 and 70 percent by 2013." And if those goals aren't met...well, the onus goes to the consumer to either bring their own bags or fork over the money, because shops will "have to either stop giving out plastic bags, or charge customers up to 15 cents apiece."

One large multi-national store already has a plastic bag surcharge. IKEA asks customers to pay 5 cents per bag they need, and encourages shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. The program has been successful, and the 5 cent fee nominal enough to not irk shoppers. But triple that amount might have some shoppers upset.

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Advocates of a plastic bag fee, and the companion movement to encourage everyone to use reusable bags, cite the environment as the number one reason to make the change. "The environmental group Californians Against Waste says residents of the Golden State use 19 billion plastic bags a year, and many end up as litter or in landfills." The production of bags uses a staggering amount of oil, and many species in the animal world are harmed by plastic bags littering their natural habitats.

So can we handle life without bags? Many say "why not?"

Smaller-scale experiments like last month's "A Day Without a Plastic Bag," helmed by Heal the Bay and City officials, met with positive results, and some of us even have resolved to make 2008 "A Year Without a Bag," opting to carry out everything in a reusable tote.

Heal the Bay "has been working with the [LA County Board of Supervisors] and advocating for strong action to curb the County's 6 billion bag per year plastic bag addiction. Our agreement as of Tuesday with several Board of Supervisors' offices was that reduction and recycling efforts need to reach 35% by 2010 and 70% by 2013; if these reduction goals are not met, the Board would consider a bag ban." But the Board has indicated they might weaken those goals, a deflating move in contrast to recent outright bag bans in China, Australia, and cities in California. A rally is scheduled for Tuesday at the Stairs on Temple Avenue outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, and Heal the Bay is encouraging people to participate.

For more information on their efforts, other bag bans, and Tuesday's rally, check out their online Action Alert.

In the meantime, consider if you'd rather pick up some reusable bags now, or start putting coins in the piggy bank to pay for those bags later.

Photo by s2art via Flickr