A number of major retailers and civic organizations have joined together to formally support the environmental organization Heal the Bay’s second annual “A Day Without a Bag” in Los Angeles County, scheduled Thursday, December 18th.

Under an education and bag giveaway program, a coalition of municipalities, including Santa Monica and Los Angeles, environmental groups and businesses, is urging Southland shoppers to “send a gift to the environment during the holiday season” by forgoing plastic or paper grocery bags in favor of reusable totes.

A diverse mix of businesses both large and small is supporting the program through various in-store promotions or giveaways at outlets countywide December 20th.

Beyond the retail programs, local shoppers can receive free bags at more than 50 sites. Information on locations and times, www.healthebay.org/nobagday/.

Earthwise Bag Co. is among companies that have provided thousands of reusable bags for distribution at sites countywide. A public awareness campaign about the economic and ecological benefits of reusable bags will be aimed at county residents, who use more than six billion disposable plastic shopping bags each year.

California municipalities spend nearly $50 million each year to collect and dispose of plastic bag waste, according to Heal the Bay.

Fewer than five percent of plastic grocery bags are recycled each year in Los Angeles, and the remainder clogs landfill, litters public spaces and harms animal life when the bags infiltrate waterways, according to the organization.

Local governments countywide have already taken action or are exploring policies to curb the use of plastic bags. The cities of Malibu and Manhattan Beach adopted ordinances earlier this year that prohibit retail establishments, restaurants and vendors from providing plastic bags to customers.

“We have nearly quadrupled the number of giveaway sites for this year’s ‘Day Without a Bag’,” said Mark Gold, president of Heal the Bay, which is organizing the event in conjunction with the city and county of Los Angeles. “It reflects the growing groundswell in Los Angeles for reusable bags, which not only save the environment but taxpayer dollars as well.”

The City of Los Angeles has committed to ban plastic bags by 2010 if a statewide fee has not been established by that time. Heal the Bay officials say the organization expects to partner with lawmakers to introduce a plastic bag-fee bill in the state legislature next year.

Paper bags, while biodegradable, still require vast amounts of fossil fuels and water to produce, distribute and collect for disposal, according to Heal the Bay.

Heavy-duty reusable bags are environmentally friendly alternatives that have been supported by millions around the world.