SACRAMENTO - A California superior court upheld Los Angeles County's ban on plastic grocery bags last week, potentially clearing the way for other municipalities to enact similar prohibitions.Under the measure passed in 2010, plastic carryout bags are no longer available in supermarkets, large retail pharmacies, liquor stores and food marts in unincorporated county areas, which encompasses 1 million residents. Shoppers can purchase paper bags at checkout for 10 cents each. Hilex Poly, a large plastic bag manufacturer based in South Carolina, challenged the measure, claiming the 10-cent charge constituted an illegal tax measure. Citing Prop. 26, Hilex Poly argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it turned retail stores into de facto tax collectors for the county. But in a decision issued Friday, Judge James Chalfant rejected that claim, thereby validating the ordinance, which served as a model for many municipalities in the nation working to curb the environmental waste created by single-use bags. The court ruled that the levy on paper bags is not a tax because retailers keep all of the money collected. Retailers use the money to offset the costs of supplying paper bags to customers and to provide "consumer education materials." Since the measure took effect in July, retailers have seen a 94 percent reduction in the distribution of single-use bags in unincorporated areas, according to preliminary analysis by the county's Department of Public Works. Environmental group Heal the Bay has led a legislative fight to enact plastic bag bans throughout L.A. County and at the state level as part of its efforts to tackle plastic pollution in California seas and neighborhoods. "(Friday's) ruling sends a strong message to plastic polluters that last-ditch legal attempts to thwart environmental progress won't work," said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay's director of water quality. "The plastics industry knows the writing is on the wall." Heal the Bay said the court ruling will provide "breathing room" for the dozens of cities statewide considering similar ordinances. In the next few weeks, the city of Los Angeles is expected to consider a bag ban, which may include provisions similar to the county's ordinance. "An appeal is expected, but this is a great first test case for Prop. 26," said Jennie Romer, a lawyer and founder of plasticbaglaws.org. "It's encouraging for California cities moving forward with second generation plastic bag ordinances." Heal the Bay is sponsoring statewide legislation with Assemblymember Julia Brownley that would ban plastic bags throughout California. The measure is expected to be considered by the state legislature this summer.
********** Published: March 29, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 50