One of the Southland’s preeminent environmental organizations took issue with a decision by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to approve a county measure that would delay the implementation of a possible prohibition of the use of plastic bags for another two years.

Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental organization, derided the supervisors’ January 22nd vote as a “halfhearted measure” that will not advance the goal of many environmental groups to eliminate plastic bags and containers that pollute the atmosphere and the ocean.

The 3-2 vote postpones the implementation of a proposed ban on plastic bag use until 2010.

“The board voted to protect the interests of polluters, not the citizens that they are sworn to protect,” stated Mark Gold, Heal the Bay’s executive director.

Supervisors Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe, whose Fourth District includes Marina del Rey and Playa del Rey, voted for an amendment to an earlier proposal crafted by environmental groups with the assistance of the supervisors’ offices, said Gold.

A county staff recommendation backed the prohibition of plastic shopping bags in unincorporated areas of the county if certain recycling targets were not met.

The supervisors settled on a 30 percent target rate of reduction for plastic receptacle usage by 2010 and 65 percent in the county by 2013.

“We wanted an extra five percent in both cases, and a total ban by Earth Day this year,” Gold said.

Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky, whose Second District includes Santa Monica, supported the original proposal.

Tom Ford of Santa Monica Baykeepers was also disappointed in the decision to put off a ban on plastic bags.

“It’s discouraging that the board does not take a more aggressive stance in eliminating a source of pollution to our coastal waters,” he said.

David Sommers, press spokesman for Knabe, called the measure a step in the right direction.

“This is a big win for the environment,” he said. “At the end of the day, we will be reducing the amount of plastic bags by two-thirds — over 400 million bags.”

Sommers said that the five- percent increase that was recommended by the environmental organizations would not have had a notable effect on reducing pollution caused by plastic bags and containers.

“It’s still going to be a significant amount of bags that are eliminated by 2010,” he insisted. “There’s not a lot of difference between 65 and 70 percent.”

Both Gold and Ford point to cities like San Francisco and Santa Monica, which have been very proactive in seeking solutions to phasing out synthetic containers in businesses in their respective municipalities. Last March, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags in many of the city’s establishments.

An ordinance enacted a year ago in Santa Monica prohibiting nonreyclable food service containers will kick in February 9th.

Malibu and Oakland have also adopted similar policies.

Gold mentioned that a number of food retailers, such as Whole Foods, were also moving toward reducing or entirely removing plastic service bags and containers from their companies.

“Central to Whole Foods Market’s core values is caring for our communities and the environment, and this includes adopting wise environmental practices,” said A.C. Gallo, co-president and chief operating officer for Whole Foods Market in a statement. “Together with our shoppers, our gift to the planet this Earth Day will be reducing our environmental impact as we estimate we will keep 100 million new plastic grocery bags out of our environment between Earth Day [April 22nd] and the end of this year alone.”

Internationally, the Chinese government recently decided to institute a ban on plastic shopping bags and is encouraging its consumers to use baskets and cloth sacks to curb environmental pollution.

“It’s a sad day when we have to look to China for environmental leadership and resolve,” Gold lamented.

Sommers said that one of the initial proposals was to charge consumers a flat fee for using plastic bags, which Knabe did not support.

“Supervisor Knabe has an interest in balancing the impact on the consumer and on the environment,” Sommers said.

Heal the Bay and Santa Monica Baykeepers both plan to continue their efforts to reduce the public’s use of plastic receptacles and are hopeful that there will be future opportunities to seek an outright ban on plastic bags and containers in the county and in other cities around the Southland.

“We’re in the middle of a movement where people are beginning to personalize the use of plastic bags,” Gold asserted. “Heal the Bay will continue to educate the public through our beach cleanups and sponsoring events like ‘A Day Without a Bag’ to curb this addition to plastic bag usage.”

“This was an easy, ‘low-hanging-fruit’ solution to eliminate plastic shopping bags from our streams and oceans, and it’s unfortunate that the board did not take a stronger stance,” added Ford. “We’re confident that there will be another opportunity for them to do the right thing.”

In addition to Heal the Bay and Santa Monica Baykeeper, the Surfrider Foundation, Green L.A. and approximately a dozen other environmental organizations worked on the original ban proposal.

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