A state law, authored by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, requires major supermarkets and pharmacies to accept plastic bags for recycling starting July 1. Under AB 2449, stores also must sell canvas or other reusable bags. If common plastic grocery bags are barred in unincorporated areas of the county, Los Angeles could follow suit. Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes, concerned about grocery bags littering the Los Angeles River, has dubbed them “the river’s graffiti.” His bag ban proposal, which sank a few years ago, led the city to include plastic bags in recycling. “We’re willing to consider anything if it’s going to get those plastic bags out of the river,” Reyes spokesman Tony Perez said. “It is a mess … a stream of plastic grocery bags.” Last month, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to ban petroleum-based plastic grocery bags in favor of biodegradable, or compostable, models. Common plastic bags, introduced in the late 1970s and now used by nine out of 10 shoppers, never decompose. In a breeze, they can blow like kites across the landscape. In the ocean, they join the plastic debris blamed killing more than a million marine birds and animals each year. And in landfills, they never break down. But while common plastic bags can kill wildlife, paper bags take far more energy to produce. In addition, experts say that biodegradable bags, which require special conditions for composting, can pollute plastic recyclables. Companies that recycle plastic will not accept batches that include compostable bags made of corn or potato starch. For this reason, most say that reusing shopping bags is the ultimate bag solution. “Reuse, reuse, reuse – it’s the No. 1 way to go,” said Leslie Tamminen, legislative director for Heal the Bay, an oceans watchdog group. “That’s the best, and most sustainable solution,” added John Rizzo of the Sierra Club in San Francisco. “Paper bags are better for waste, but do use trees. Composting plastic takes longer to decompose. “Canvas, you can keep reusing it again and again.” Because the Los Angeles region has no composting program like San Francisco’s, many think that a switch to biodegradable bags could hamper plastic recycling programs. If not composted, the bio bags can also kill marine life. “I think it’s completely appropriate, especially in coastal communities, to ban plastic bags … and encourage customers to use their own bags,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste, an environmental group based in Sacramento. With a complete ban, the common plastic bag could go the way of the pull-tab soda can. Grocery industry officials said they were in favor of plastic bag reduction, but not at the expense of plastic recycling. A move to compostable bags, they say, could jeopardize the state grocery bag recycling program. “In general, our industry is supportive of reducing, re-using and recycling – paper or plastic,” said Peter Larkin, president of the California Grocers Association. While it costs grocers 1.3 cents for a common plastic bag, it can cost up to nine cents for a handled paper bag and 10 to 30 cents per compostable bag. The county supervisors Tuesday said they wanted a report back as quickly as possible on what the impact a ban on plastic bags would have on recycling programs and the local economy. Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke asked that the report include potential alternatives such as bio bags, but noted that consumers may be confused over what to do with them. “A lot of us switched to plastic bags from paper because we were concerned about the impact on trees,” she said. “It’s difficult to let people know what should be done to help the environment.” [email protected] (818) 713-3730 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to study the issue of paper versus plastic and whether to enact a ban on standard plastic bags, similar to one imposed in San Francisco. “We have an opportunity to be a leader with all the cities in the county,” Supervisor Gloria Molina said prior to the 4-0 vote authorizing a full review. “We have 10 million people living in this region where we have a severe problem with landfills.” Officials are concerned about the estimated 6 billion plastic grocery bags sold in Los Angeles County – of which only 1 percent are recycled. They fill landfills, clog storm drains, litter roadways, stuff kitchen drawers and kill marine life. The plastic grocery bag has not only harmed the environment, but become a target for state and local governments concerned about dismal recycling efforts.