Sunday, September 28, 2008

Plastic Bag Ban for Pasadena Considered

In a mostly unheralded decision last week, a subcommittee of Pasadena's Environmental Advisory Commission voted to recommend the complete ban of single-use plastic shopping bags for retail establishments in Pasadena.

The Waste Reduction, Transportation & Environmental Health (WRTEH) Committee held nearly 18 months of monthly hearings, including two large public hearing events with panelists from local markets and representatives of the plastic bag industry.

Among other startling factors, the Committee discovered that some 86 million one-use plastic bags are used and discarded in Pasadena alone. Of those, 81 million end up in the landfill, or as litter, every year.

At a future EAC meeting the WRTEH Committtee will recommend that the full Commission take additional public input, and then take action on a general WRTEH recommendation to outlaw single use plastic bags in Pasadena.
The WRTEH committee will leave some of the details of any Commission recommendation to be worked out by the full Commission, but is expected to recommend:

(1) a ban on single use plastic bags by all retail establishments and vendors licensed by the city;

(2) a ban on single-use paper bags with less than 40% post-consumer recycled content; and

(3) a fee, possibly $.25 per bag, on permitted paper bags.

The are a number of considerations being balanced in the recommendation. Among other things, when the entire life cycle of single-use plastic is considered and compared to that of a single use paper bag, plastic creates a worse environmental detriment. Paper, at least, bio-degrades both in the landfill and when released into the environment. Indeed, paper can be backyard composted. Moreover, recycling rates for paper are high, whereas even with the recent state-law mandating large-store recycling, only 5% of plastic bags have been recycled statewide.

Since the most sustainable practice is reusable cloth bags that are actually reused, both paper and plastic are subject to reduction efforts.