The days may be numbered in which the disposable plastic bag sees widespread use in the retail setting. After the Los Angeles City Council voted 13-1 to phase out plastic bags in an estimated 7,500 stores over the next 12 months, the end may indeed be nigh for the convenient items that nevertheless harm the environment. The significance of this development may be far reaching. “Given L.A. is the largest city in California and in the nation to ban plastic bags, other communities are likely to follow in quick succession,” says Andy Keller, CEO of reusable bag company ChicoBag and veteran of the plastic bag wars.

The decision was the culmination of activist efforts, with celebrities like Julia Louis-Dreyfus and several environmental groups rooting on the City Council, according to the Los Angeles Times. The council elected not to also ban paper bags, but that may be almost a moot point in light of a 10-cent tax imposed on paper bags in Los Angeles County, which has led to an almost 94% reduction in their use, reports Jennie R. Romer, founder of This Los Angeles County measure included only unincorporated areas of the county, and not the City of Los Angeles. But this new decision calls for the same 10-cent tax to apply to paper bags distributed in the city, which will come into effect one year from the vote. It also calls for an outright ban of paper bags to be reconsidered after two years.

 The vote begins a four-month environmental review of the ban on plastic bags. After this review, an ordinance will be officially passed to put the ban into effect. Large retailers will have six months from that point to cease distributing plastic bags, and smaller stores will be given a 12 month timetable.

There is, of course, a downside to everything, and newspapers also reported the presence of workers from plastic bag manufacturers on the day of the vote, there to protest the potential decision. Some wore t-shirts reading “Don’t Kill My Job,” and said they feared unemployment. But detractors point to the environmental damage that plastic bag build-up causes in waterways along the coast, their impact on marine life, their clogging of landfills and the consistent burden that plastic bag clean up places on taxpayers.

San Francisco had initiated a similar ban on plastic bags in large retailers back in 2007, as well as several smaller communities throughout California. “A state wide ban makes a lot of sense because it simplifies the patch work of local ordinances. The city of L.A. decision sends a clear message to [state capital] Sacramento," says Keller.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2012