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Outside the Los Angeles City Hall, on a warm day in May, a chorus of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, plastic bags have got to go” could be heard echoing down the street. The fate of the city’s lowly plastic bags hung at the mercy of a city council vote.

According to Californians Against Waste, Californians use 14 billion plastic bags every year, amounting to almost 400 bags per second. Many of these bags end up polluting the ocean and waterways, while others clog landfills. Plastic bags essentially never biodegrade — rather, sunlight breaks them up into small pieces that can choke or kill marine animals and birds. Moreover, the inks found in these bags can contain toxic chemicals such as lead. Only about 2 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the U.S. According to L.A. council member Andrea Alarcon, 43 percent of litter is plastic related and 19 percent of this is attributable to plastic bags.

The plastic bag ban was passed 13-1 and will be modeled after programs in a number of other municipalities including San Francisco, Oakland, Long Beach, Calabasas, Santa Monica, Pasadena and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles. Other countries have also passed similar legislation. In Ireland, plastic bags are subject to a 22-cent tax, which has slashed their use by more than 90 percent since it was implemented in 2002. Still, there were a few critics of the L.A. ban, including representatives of bag manufacturers, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, and council member Bernard Parks who voted against the proposal. Concerns included job loss, lack of consumer choice, legal challenges and health risks.

Before becoming effective, the L.A. ban will undergo a four-month environmental study and requires a final vote and signature from the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. His support seemed evident from his statement after the council vote: “Today, the City Council approved a motion that will move us one step closer to making Los Angeles a greener, cleaner, more sustainable city.” Once finalized, large stores will have six months to implement the ban while small stores will be allowed a year to phase out plastic bags. Retailers will be able to continue to offer customers paper bags but at a charge of 10 cents per bag. According to the California Grocers Association, “the regulation of both bag types was highlighted as critical to providing consistency for consumers across the region and minimizing cost and operational impacts to LA City grocers.”

This ban will make L.A. the largest city in the nation to implement such a program and has been in the works for the past six years. According to Councilman Paul Koretz, the main supporter of the ban, “This day has been a long time in coming.” While the approved ban is less stringent than the one he originally sought — which aimed for a total ban on both plastic and paper single-use bags — he believes this could be a tipping point prompting numerous other jurisdictions to follow suit and get enthusiastic about banning plastic.