News Details
What You Need to Know About the Plastic Bag Ban
7/6/11 UPDATE

Residents and retailers can learn more about the ban on plastic bags and its implementation at  The website includes a Frequently Asked Questions section, a copy of the ordinance (also found below) and other links to prepare residents and retailers for the first deadline of August 1, 2011 for large retailers (and January 1, 2012 for small retailers).

Second District residents may request a Litter Free Long Beach reusable bag by calling the Second District office at (562) 570-6684.


The California Supreme Court made it easier Thursday for cities to prohibit stores from distributing plastic grocery bags, ruling that state law didn't require Manhattan Beach to do an environmental impact study before imposing a plastic-bag ban in 2008.

The court's unanimous ruling overturned two lower-court decisions and provided guidance to a growing number of cities that want to ban plastic grocery bags for environmental reasons. Environmentalists say plastic bags end up in landfills, add to the litter in parks and on beaches, and are ingested by fish and whales.

San Francisco, Malibu, Santa Monica, Long Beach, Marin County and unincorporated Los Angeles County have enacted bans.

A group representing makers of plastic bags sued to block Manhattan Beach's ban, arguing the city failed to study whether the ban would harm the environment by increasing use of paper bags.

Justice Carol A. Corrigan, writing for the court, said substantial evidence and "common sense" supported the city's contention that the environment would not be harmed.

05/11/11 UPDATE

The Ordinance requires a store to provide or make available to a customer only recyclable paper carry out bags or reusable bags. The Ordinance is based largely on LA County’s recently adopted ordinance in unincorporated areas and Final Environmental Impact Report entitled, Ordinances to Ban Plastic Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County.   The Ordinance includes compostable and biodegradable plastic carryout bags in the definition of plastic carry out bags, and, as a result, these types of plastic bags would be banned as well. The Ordinance also requires that paper bags be one hundred percent (100%) recyclable overall, contain a minimum of forty percent (40%) post-consumer recycled material, and be accepted for recycling in curbside programs in the City/County, among other criteria. With respect to reusable bags, the Ordinance would require that the reusable bag be designed for a minimum lifetime of 125 uses, be machine washable, and not contain lead, cadmium, or any other heavy metal in toxic amounts, among other criteria.

To view Long Beach's staff report and ordinance to ban plastic bags, please click here.

In response to growing evidence that plastic bags are harming our marine environment and negatively impacting our community landscape, Vice Mayor Lowenthal introduced a plastic bag ban for Council consideration on December 7 (see below).  Her co-sponsors on the item included Councilmember Robert Garcia and Councilmember Gary DeLong, whose district includes the Los Cerritos Wetlands, San Gabriel River, Alamitos Bay and beach front areas. During her tenure, Lowenthal has introduced council items supporting a "Day Without a Bag", support for AB 1998 and the LA County plastic bag ban ordinance. 

To view the original motion by Vice Mayor Lowenthal, please scroll down.

To learn more about the true taxpayer and environmental costs of plastic bags or to view the Los Angeles County Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance & adopted EIR, please click here.

In November, 2010, Suja Lowenthal was honored with the invitation to speak at the TEDx conference regarding the growing economic costs of collection and disposal of plastic - the externalized costs of plastic pollution. The conference presented an amazing collection of speakers from throughout the world and viewers participated from all corners by webcast. Please click here to view the YouTube link of that presentation.

Think plastic bags are no laughing matter, then view:
The Majestic Plastic Bag - A Mockumentary, by clicking here.
Plastic State of Mind - Black Friday Parody by clicking here.

To learn more about what other cities and counties are doing to address the negative impacts of plastic bags, please go to the Green Cities California website by clicking here

Long Beach is by no means alone in our concern for the environmental and financial cost of plastic bags. Here is a partial list of states, counties and cities that have adopted or are considering a ban on plastic bags:

New York
New Jersey
Los Angeles County
Santa Clara County
Marin County
San Jose
Manhattan Beach
Santa Monica
Los Angeles
Culver City
Sierra Madre
West Hollywood
San Francisco
San Jose
Santa Barbara
San Diego

In addition, the following countries or their states have banned or are considering bans on plastic bags:

United Kingdom
Dhaka, Bangladesh
Mumbai, India
South Africa (since 2003)

December 7, 2010

To: Mayor and City Council

From: Robert Garcia, First District
Suja Lowenthal, Second District
Gary DeLong, Third District

Subject: Single Use Carryout Bag Ordinance


Request the City Attorney and City Manager draft language for consideration of Los Angeles County’s Final Environmental Impact Report entitled, “Proposed Ordinances to Ban Plastic Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County”.

Request the City Attorney and City Manager draft an ordinance duplicating Los Angeles County’s adopted ordinance for unincorporated cities, and closely resembling AB 1998 (Brownley) which includes, but is not limited to, the following elements:

· Bans plastic carryout bags at all supermarkets and other grocery stores, convenience stores, food marts, pharmacies and drug stores, while requiring stores that provide recyclable paper carryout bags to impose a charge of ten (10) cents to a customer to cover reasonable costs associated with the ordinance.

· Paper bags must be made from a minimum of 40% post-consumer, recycled content.

· An exemption for those customers who are participating either in the California Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children or the Supplemental Food Program.

· A start date for compliance with the ordinance of July 1 2011 for larger stores (as defined in the County’s ordinance) and January 1, 2012 for all others, allowing the City of Long Beach and stores an opportunity to provide employee training and outreach.

Request the City Manager develop a public education campaign (website and hotline) for affected businesses to receive information about the ordinance and residents to learn about the benefits of a ban to a coastal city such as Long Beach and report violations.

Request the City Manager develop, and the ordinance include a monitoring and compliance process that uses existing health or environmental related monitoring activities of the affected stores.



On November 16, 2010, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a Final Environmental Impact Report and adopted an ordinance banning plastic carryout bags from supermarkets and other grocery stores, convenience stores, food marts, pharmacies and drug stores, while requiring stores that provide recyclable paper carryout bags to impose a charge of ten (10) cents to a customer to cover reasonable costs associated with the ordinance. The countywide objectives of the Board of Supervisors were to reduce the consumption of plastic carryout bags per household by 50% from 2007 to 2013; reduce the contribution of plastic carryout bags to litter that blights public spaces by 50% by 2013; reduce by $4 million the County’s cities’ and Los Angeles Flood Control District’s costs for prevention, clean up, and enforcement efforts to reduce litter by $4 million; reduce disposal of plastic carryout bags in landfills by 50% from 2007 annual amounts. See the attached Executive Summary from the Final EIR, “Proposed Ordinances to Ban Plastic Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County”.

The Final EIR analyzed 5 proposed ordinances for unincorporated areas and was intended to provide the County’s 88 incorporated cities with a legal basis for the adoption of comparable ordinances, since the cost of performing an EIR has been prohibitive for most cities, including Long Beach. As such, the County is the lead agency for the County ordinance pursuant to CEQA, and the individual incorporated cities would be the lead agencies for their respective city ordinances, should they decide to adopt comparable ordinances. According to the report, “The County prepared its EIR to support the fulfillment of the goals of CEQA (Section15002 of the State CEQA Guidelines)…focus(ing) on the changes in the environment that would be expected to result from implementation of the proposed ordinance within the unincorporated territories of the County, as well as potential changes in the environment that would be expected to result from implementation of similar ordinances in the 88 incorporated cities in the County.”[1]

The County Board of Supervisors voted by a margin of 3-1, to adopt Alternative 2 from the proposed alternatives to an ordinance below:

· No Project Alternative

· Alternative 1, Ban Plastic and Paper Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County

· Alternative 2, Ban Plastic Carryout Bags and Impose a Fee on Paper Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County

· Alternative 3, Ban Plastic Carryout Bags for All Supermarkets and Other Grocery Stores, Convenience Stores, Pharmacies, and Drug Stores in Los Angeles County

· Alternative 4, Ban Plastic and Paper Carryout Bags for All Supermarkets and Other Grocery Stores, Convenience Stores, Pharmacies, and Drug Stores in Los Angeles County

For some, paper bags are just as harmful as plastic bags to our environment since their production requires a greater amount of energy and they are the byproduct of trees. However, the County reports that “paper bags have the potential to biodegrade if they are sufficiently exposed to oxygen, sunlight, moisture, soil, and microorganisms (such as bacteria); they are denser and less susceptible to becoming airborne...” In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) reported that the recycling rate for paper bags was triple that of plastic bags (36.8% to 11.9%) in 2007. Therefore, based upon the available evidence, paper carryout bags are less likely to become litter than are plastic carryout bags.

Even so, the proposed 10-cent fee is expected to further reduce consumer use of paper bags. The ordinance also bans biodegradable and compostable bags because there is a lack of commercial composting facilities in the County that would be needed to process compostable or biodegradable plastic carryout bags.


In June, 2010, the City Council voted to support AB 1998 (Brownley – Single Use Carry Out Bags) and requested the City Attorney and City Manager to review LA County’s Draft Environmental Impact Report entitled “Ordinances to Ban Plastic Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County” and its applicability to the City of Long Beach. The City Council’s Environmental Committee last considered the issue of plastic bags in March 2009. Among other action items, the committee voted to continue to support the reusable bag option while waiting on the results of state legislation and to explore a Regional EIR approach. At its meeting in March and in a follow up memo in May, City staff provided the Environmental Committee and Council members with updates of cities and counties throughout the State looking to ban plastic and/or paper bags (single use carryout). As a result of AB 68 and AB 1998 (Brownley) failing to pass the legislature and LA County’s recent passage of an ordinance, counties and cities throughout the State have proposed ordinances of their own.

For the last three years, Council member offices and the City of Long Beach have participated in a “Day without a Bag” with Heal the Bay and a coalition of environmental and government organizations to encourage shoppers and businesses to forego use of single-use bags in favor of reusable bags. The event aims to empower shoppers to take direct action to eliminate this source of blight and damage in their own community. Reusable bags are distributed by Long Beach and coalition members at selected retail centers and one-on-one education informs them of ways to reduce their reliance on harmful products.


According to City documents, Long Beach spends (approximately) $2.2. million per year in maintenance costs associated with marine debris such as plastic bags. In addition, the City has spent more than $18 million on capital projects designed to catch litter and debris before they are discharged to our rivers and beaches. These investments in our infrastructure have proven necessary, not just to reduce marine debris, but to allow Long Beach to lead by example in the campaign to urge upstream cities to be responsible for their own waste pollution.

The Los Angeles County's Department of Public Works and the Flood Control District spends $18 million each year on street sweeping, catch basin cleanouts, cleanup programs, and litter prevention and education efforts. Each year, approximately 6 billion plastic carryout bags are used in Los Angeles County. (L.A. County Boards of Supervisors Staff Report, 2007). Throughout the state, according to Don’t Trash California, state and local governments spend approximately $375 million every year to clean up and landfill discarded plastic bags. Single use bags cost cities in the county up to 17 cents per bag for disposal. In United States, less than 5 percent of plastic bags are recycled. With over 380 billion bags being thrown away every year, Americans end up wasting millions of barrels of oil or other fossil fuels, which are used in the production of single-use bags.


Long Beach is ground zero for plastic bag pollution in southern California. What starts out as litter on the street 40 miles away from Long Beach becomes marine debris half buried on our beaches, floating in a few feet of water off our shores and catching on our marina docks and boats. The City of Long Beach spends millions of dollars every year and countless staff and volunteer hours, cleaning up marine debris that includes a great deal of plastic bags. Not to mention the lost revenue associated with people’s perception of the City’s beaches and shoreline, which affects our economic development, recreation and tourism. Funding and hard work that could be put to better use in our community.

There is also an untold environmental cost. Plastic bags are a drain on our fossil fuels and threaten our marine environment in Long Beach’s harbor and the Catalina Channel. Our reliance on plastics is changing our natural environment in profound ways, eliminating important creatures in our food chain and polluting a major life-sustaining source for generations to come.

Given the challenges facing statewide legislation, LA County’s EIR and model ordinance provide Long Beach with an opportunity to distinguish itself once again, as a leader in the effort to eliminate marine debris, divert trash from our landfills and be a responsible custodian of our own wasteshed.


The cost to the City for setting up a web link and hotline will be minimal, since there are existing vehicles for both. In addition, we are asking that forms used by Health Department staff include a field for confirming the use of bags during their inspections of the businesses affected by this ordinance already taking place on an annual basis. There is a cost associated with the purchase and dispersal of free reusable bags from the City, which we anticipate will increase from present levels to support outreach and education efforts. There is also an unknown savings from reduced litter and landfill trips, since marine debris does not get diverted to our SERRF plant for energy creation due to its moisture content.

The cost to businesses will be minor, if at all, since they will no longer carry single use carryout plastic bags and will be charging for paper bags. Currently, markets and other retail outlets include the cost of bags in the price of consumer goods, so they would be trading one fee for another that is more explicit on receipts. It is worth noting that the California Grocers Association supported AB 1998 and the recent ban by the LA County Board of Supervisors, which included the same fee mechanisms.

The cost to consumers will be offset by the purchase of reusable bags, reusing already purchased paper bags and receiving free reusable bags from the City while supplies last. Reusable bags end up paying for themselves many times over during their life span.

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