SOLID WASTE:

Santa Monica, Hawaii counties latest to ban single-use plastic bags

SAN FRANCISCO -- A statewide plastic bag ban may have failed last year in California, but the movement continues at the local level, with seaside Santa Monica this week becoming the latest to outlaw the kind of shopping bags often used by grocery stores and pharmacies.

A vote by the Santa Monica City Council to ban thin, single-use plastic bags adds to similar local ordinances in place in San Francisco, San Jose, Marin County, Los Angeles County, Berkeley, Palo Alto and Long Beach.

The bags, which are already banned throughout Europe and others parts of the world, are thought to contribute to floating waste in the oceans, to include the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" swirling mass of decomposing debris in the Pacific Ocean.

Also onboard with the bag bans recently are Maui and Kauai counties in Hawaii, which implemented bans earlier this month. And, according to officials at U.S. EPA's regional office here, similar legislative action is on the move in other California cities, as well as in New York City, Seattle, Boston, Phoenix and several states.

Jared Blumenfeld, EPA's regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, noted that China, Bangladesh, Australia, Italy, South Africa, Ireland and Taiwan all recently banned plastic bags. He applauded the Hawaii votes in particular, since the area comes under his jurisdiction.

"This will not only decrease the amount of plastic in the counties, but it will reduce the number of bags that end up in the [garbage patch]," he said.

Opponents to the bans argue that attaching a fee to paper bags along with outlawing plastic creates an economic burden during difficult times for many Americans. They have also argued that paper bags should be banned, since they use woody pulp from trees, noting that plastic bags, when used responsibly, can be recycled and used again.

As for the garbage patch, a recent study by Oregon State University found that the estimated size of the phenomenon, which some have said is twice the size of Texas, has been "grossly exaggerated" (Greenwire, Jan. 5). Environmentalists have responded that the idea of a "patch" was never meant to be taken literally, as much of the litter in the area has decomposed and is no longer visible as solid material.