San Jose, Los Angeles County Ban Plastic Shopping Bags

Published January 3, 2011

In the wake of the State of California enacting a plastic shopping bag recycling program while rejecting an outright ban on plastic shopping bags, Los Angeles County and the City of San Jose have imposed their own bans on the convenient and lightweight shopping bags.

Plastic Banned, Paper Taxed
The San Jose City Council voted 10-1 on December 14 to ban retailers from distributing plastic shopping bags, effective January 1, 2012. Retailers will still be able to distribute paper bags, but they will have to be made from at least 40 percent recycled materials. In addition, customers will have to pay 10 cents for each paper shopping bag through 2013, after which they will have to pay 25 cents for each one.

The San Jose ban followed on the heels of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors enacting their own plastic shopping bag ban. By a 3-1 vote, the Board of Supervisors prohibited retailers from distributing plastic shopping bags in unincorporated areas of the county. Retailers can distribute paper bags but must charge a 10 cent fee for each paper bag distributed.

Environmental Benefits Doubted
Although proponents of plastic shopping bag bans argue the bans will benefit the environment, the Environmental Literacy Council reports plastic bags are better for air quality than paper bags because they weigh less and are more compact, requiring one-seventh the number of trucks to ship the same number of bags. Fewer truck trips carrying lighter loads means less oil consumption and less pollution.

The council also reports plastic bags are more environmentally benign in landfills because they require only a fraction of the landfill space taken by the same number of paper bags.

Higher Consumer Costs
Mike Antonovich, the lone dissenter in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors vote, says the fees represent an unacceptable new tax.  

“I voted ‘no’ on the ban based on the facts that it is not sound public policy and it also only increases costs and regulations on the 1.5 million residents and the businesses residing in the county’s unincorporated areas—and not the county’s 88 cities. The mandated 10-cent-per-bag charge represents a new tax on the consumer,” explained Antonovich.

“Telling residents what bags they can use, cannot use, and how much they will be charged is Big Brother at its worst,” Antonovich added.

The San Jose ban and tax are the most stringent anti-shopping bag prohibitions in California. Los Angeles County is the largest municipality in the nation to ban plastic bags.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.