While Los Angeles moved toward becoming the largest city in the nation to ban single-use plastic bags last week, residents and small business owners expressed differing opinions of how the ban would affect them.
The plastic bag ban, voted 13-1 by the LA City Council, will take place after a four-month environmental report, another vote by the council, and a signature by mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Once enacted, the ban gives large retailers six months to phase out their plastic. Small retailers will have one year. After that, retailers will be forced to charge 10 cents per paper bag.
Jeffery David, the owner of a clothing store in Chinatown, said the ban will change their store policy.
"It will definitely make an impact," David said. "We tie the bags really tight so that people won't steal and we don't allow people to bring outside bags. I don't know how I'm going to do it."
David also mentioned fears of the monetary cost the ban would add: "It costs $8 for a thousand plastic bags, but paper is more expensive."
If San Francisco's bag ban is any example, David's fears could be legitimate. San Francisco first prohibited plastic bags in 2007, barring them from large grocery stores and chain pharmacies. Earlier this year, both San Jose and San Francisco decided to add 10-cent charges to paper bags. While Angelenos have more than a year before the charge takes place, the San Francisco measure takes effect in October.
At Brownies Hardware in San Francisco's Lower Nob Hill neighborhood, owner Steve Cornell said that after the 2007 law, he began switching to paper bags, a move that has cost extra money and takes up more storage space. Hoping to offset the cost, in recent years he's given away over 7,000 reusable bags, but he's rarely seen customers return with the bags.
"Maybe once customers start seeing the extra 10 cents on their receipts this fall, they'll think twice about throwing those bags away," Cornell said.
Herb Cohn, former president of the San Francisco Council of District Merchants Associations, fears that customers will be turned off by the 10-cent charge and stop making impulse buys.
"I hear complaints from all types of small businesses -- now they're being squeezed a little tighter," Cohn said. "Ecologically, I can see why we want to step away from plastic, but this takes it too far and puts an unfair burden on small businesses," Cohn said.
In LA, Councilman Ed Reyes believes the ban is needed to deal with the environmental issues in the city.
"It's a way to begin changing our culture, looking at this very punitive contaminate-plastic bags-in our rivers and our streetways," said Reyes in a press release. Plastic bags contribute to 19 percent of litter found in the LA River and 12 percent of garbage caught along freeways, according to a report for the LA County.
But a 2008 statewide waste study by the California Environmental Protection Agency revealed that plastic grocery bags make up just 0.3 percent of all waste, while paper bags make up 0.4 percent. Construction materials and paper products together produce over five times the amount of waste that all plastics do. The largest amount of plastic waste comes from packaging, such as lids and soda bottles, not plastic bags.
The ban will eventually push costs onto the consumer: In order to avoid the 10-cent fee on paper bags, consumers will be required to buy reusable bags at $1 or $2 apiece.
Some residents acknowledge the inconvenience, but say they are willing to shoulder the cost.
"In the long term, I think the ban will probably be in our best interest," said Elizabeth Shin, a graduate student at UCLA who already uses reusable bags. "It will require people to be more responsible. We've become so used to the convenience of having the plastic bags available."
And for some small business owners, the ban means thinking up innovative ways to keep consumers happy. Bill Louie, owner of a curio shop in Chinatown, said the effect of the ban on his shop "depends on if the customers are willing to pay ten cents for the bag. [If not] I may just wrap [purchases] up in newspaper and give it to them like that."