Remembering Those Reusable Bags Takes Time

July 10, 2014 by · 2 Comments 

Every time Josefina Gonzalez walks into her local grocery store, it takes a minute or two for her to remember that she has again forgotten her reusable grocery bags in her car.

She said it’s been hard to get into the habit of bringing the bags with her when she shops, even though she’s known for months that single-use plastic bags are banned at grocery stores in the city of Los Angeles.

“I’ve known since January that the [stores] are not giving out any more plastic bags, but I really can’t get used to the idea,” she told EGP last Thursday after purchasing groceries at a store in Lincoln Heights.

Lea este artículo en Español: Recordar el Uso de Bolsas Reutilizables Toma Constancia

Last week, Gonzalez and other Rancho Meat Market #1 customers received a free reusable bag thanks to a partnership between the storeowner, Councilman Gil Cedillo  (CD-1) and the city’s public works and sanitation departments. It was part of an outreach effort to remind the public that as of July 1, the ban on plastic bags has expanded to include smaller stores that have a grocery section, including convenience stores and so-called “mom and pop” retailers.

“Plastic bags are now banned in large and small grocery stores,” Cedillo told EGP via email.   “People can choose to purchase a paper bag for ten cents, or use a reusable bag for free. We all have to do our part to help out the environment,” he said.

Rancho Meat Market in Lincoln Heights promotes reusable bags. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

Rancho Meat Market in Lincoln Heights promotes reusable bags. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

In January of this year, L.A. became the largest city in the U.S. to ban single-use plastic bags. City officials approved the ban, saying the bags harm the environment and “create a blight of litter that is pervasive in the public landscape, including parks, streams, beaches and streets.” The ban prohibits retailers from using free plastic bags for their customer’s groceries, but requires customers to pay 10 cents for a paper bag or to purchase reusable bags if they do not have them.

“Once they are used, they fly and end up in storm drains, or the ocean,” and then the city has to clear them out of the storm drains to prevent flooding, said Junderpal Bhandal, an environmental specialist with the city’s public works department.

The ordinance is being rolled in with the first phase implemented at the beginning of this year at larger grocery retailers such as Vons, Albertson, some Targets, Walmart and licensed pharmacies such as CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens.

The second phase took effect July 1 at smaller retailers and convenience stores that sell selected items, “including milk, bread, soda, snack foods, and alcohol,” such as 7-Eleven and ampm.

“We gave the smaller stores a little more time to get adapted,” Bhandal told EGP as he handed out the free reusable bags to people entering the grocery store.  He said they want to “encourage people to start using these reusable bags.”

Customer Linda Rosa told EGP she thinks the ban “is a good idea because [plastic bags] take too much time to disappear.”

Butcher Alberto Vasquez agrees. “Change is good,” he said. “We can prevent a lot of contamination” by getting rid of the plastic bags.

Customer Linda Rosa agrees with the ordinance of banning plastic bags. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

Customer Linda Rosa agrees with the ordinance of banning plastic bags. (EGP photo by Jacqueline García)

For others, however, the ban is causing frustration, especially when they forget their bags at home or in their cars. The ordinance requires retailers to charge their customers 10 cents for a paper bag if they do not bring their own reusable bags to the store.

Ranch Meat Market owner Josie Andrade told EGP that she’s faced mixed reactions, especially when the ban extended to her store on July 1.

“They were asking, ‘can I get a bag?’… Most of them do not want to buy a bag, they’d rather carry their stuff out in their hands,” she said. Despite the pressure, Andrade told EGP she’s complying with the ordinance to avoid being fined. Retailers can be fined for each day they are in violation; $100 for the first violation and up to $300 for a third violation.

It’s an issue for some customers, but they knew it was coming and they will have to adapt, Andrade said.

According to Gonzalez, prior to the ordinance, the empty bags would just pile up until she threw them in the trash, which she said is bad for the ecosystem.

“Now, I just buy what I need to use,” she said.

Restaurants, dry cleaning shops and hardware stores such as Home Depot and Lowes and retailers in the California Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children are exempted. The ban does not apply to pharmacy or bags used for produce.

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