Shoppers will soon no longer be given the option of carrying out their items in light-weight plastic bags at retail establishments in Santa Monica.

The City Council voted 4-0 Jan. 25 to approve an amended ordinance banning retail outlets from distributing single-use plastic bags to customers and providing free paper carry out bags. Grocery stores and pharmacies are given the option of providing recycled paper carry out bags at a cost of 10 cents each to customers who do not bring reusable bags, with the revenue retained by the stores.

The law, which is slated to be enforced beginning in September, provides an exemption to restaurants only for the use of plastic bags to transport take-out foods and liquids. Plastic product bags such as those used for bagging produce or meat products are not included in the law.

City staff said the ordinance is intended to significantly reduce the environmental impacts related to single-use plastic and paper carry out bags, while encouraging a shift toward reusable bags. The Santa Monica approval comes after the county Board of Supervisors approved a plastic bag ban in unincorporated county areas, and as several other California cities are pursuing similar measures.

Environmental groups, including Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, backed the city’s ban arguing that California cities spend nearly $25 million each year to collect and dispose of plastic bag waste. Less than 5 percent of plastic shopping bags are recycled each year statewide, with the remainder potentially clogging landfill, creating litter and posing a danger to animal life when the bags enter waterways, according to Heal the Bay.

“I’m very glad you made the amendment and made it abundantly clear that you are moving forward with an environmental ban that is going to protect public health,” Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, told the council prior to its vote.

A number of speakers, several using reusable bags as props, urged the City Council to enact the ban against single-use plastic bags more than two years after the city first considered the law. The council had chosen to postpone the effort to conduct a full environmental review after receiving threats of a legal challenge.

“I’m very honored and proud that Santa Monica is once again taking a strong stand for the environment,” resident Jerry Rubin said.

Some local neighborhood councils in Los Angeles, including the Mar Vista Community Council, have called on that city to follow Santa Monica’s lead by adopting a bag ban of its own.

“I’m very excited about what you’re doing and the fact that you are leading on this issue,” Sherri Akers, co-chair of the Mar Vista council’s Green Committee, told Santa Monica council members.

An attorney for the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition said the coalition has argued that paper bags are worse for the environment than plastic bags, but commended the Santa Monica council for making changes to the ordinance, such as permitting restaurants to use plastic bags for take-out food.

Noting that Santa Monica is not the first city in the state to enact such an ordinance, City Councilman Kevin McKeown said the process took longer than expected in order to ensure that the ban could withstand legal challenge.

“What I think we will do tonight is pass an ordinance that will stand up in court,” he said.

Mayor Richard Bloom echoed his colleague’s sentiments.

“Would we have liked to have done it sooner, you bet. But we’ve got an ordinance that we think will hold up to legal challenge here, and that’s the critical thing,” he said.

Mayor Pro-Tem Gleam Davis said she believes the approval of the plastic bag ban is the beginning and not the end of the education campaign. City leaders need to be enthusiastic about spreading the word regarding reusable bags and work to become advocates for the new law, she said.

The city Office of Sustainability and the Environment, which has the primary responsibility for enforcing the law, plans to conduct workshops and other outreach to provide assistance to retailers affected by the ordinance. Office staff will also conduct a campaign to inform the public about the ban and encourage people to bring reusable bags to stores.

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