California Grocers Seek Delay in Plastic Bag Study

LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- The California Grocers Association yesterday asked the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to delay studying how to reduce carryout bag use until a statewide recycling program that begins in July has an opportunity to be evaluated.

A motion by board supervisors Yvonne B. Burke and Zev Yaroslavsky to investigate plastic and paper consumption, along with current recycling programs, was discussed April 10 following a recently passed San Francisco ordinance mandating that large grocery stores and chain pharmacies only provide compostable plastic and recyclable paper bags to customers. The ordinance takes effect in six months if it's signed by the mayor.

"Given that the San Francisco program has not been implemented, and that California's statewide plastic bag recycling law (Assembly Bill 2449) focused solely on plastic bags doesn't begin until July 1, we believe it premature to move forward with any type of study," said CGA president Peter Larkin.

Assembly Bill 2449 establishes a statewide recycling program for plastic bags and mandates that grocery retailers with gross annual sales of $2 million and stores of 10,000 square feet or more with a licensed pharmacy provide a collection point for plastic bags, recycle the materials returned by consumers, and provide reusable carryout bags for purchase by consumers by July 1.

The new law is supported by the Los Angeles County Solid Waste Management Committee/Integrated Waste Management Task Force, which strongly believes it will further plastic bag recycling.

According to Larkin, however, the industry's current recycling efforts are showing results. "Opportunities to reuse, reduce, and recycle carryout bags already exist and are growing," he said, pointing to Los Angeles County's curbside plastic bag recycling program. "San Francisco grocers successfully reduced carryout bag use by 7.6 million in 2006 as part of a voluntary bag reduction agreement with the city, in which eight grocery companies representing 32 store locations participated," said Larkin. "The program's success demonstrates that both retailers and consumers support reusing, reducing, and recycling carryout bags."

Larkin added that the San Francisco ordinance would be unmanageable in Los Angeles because the county lacks the proper infrastructure to correctly compost biodegradable bags. "If the county doesn't have the capability to compost bags properly, the replacement bag ends up taking up the same space in a landfill as a standard recyclable plastic bag," he said. "Plus mixing both recyclable and compostable plastic bags will compromise recycling efforts and contaminate the recycling stream."

The California Grocers Association is a nonprofit, statewide trade association representing approximately 500 retail members operating over 6,000 food stores in California and Nevada, and approximately 200 grocery supplier companies.
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