Court rejects manufacturers’ writ; path cleared for similar measures statewide
SANTA MONICA, CA (Friday, March 23, 2012) – In a sharp rebuke to the plastics industry, a Superior Court judge today denied a legal challenge to Los Angeles County’s progressive single-use bag ordinance.
Under the measure passed in 2010, plastic carryout bags are no longer available in supermarkets, large retail pharmacies, liquor stores and food marts in unincorporated areas of the county, which encompasses 1 million residents. Shoppers have the option of purchasing paper bags at checkout for 10 cents each.
Hilex Poly, a large plastic bag manufacturer based in South Carolina, had filed a writ claiming the county’s 10-cent charge constituted an illegal tax measure. Citing Proposition 26, Hilex Poly argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional because it turned retail stores into de facto tax collectors for the county.
But in a decision issued today, Judge James Chalfant rejected that claim, thereby validating the ordinance, which has served as a model for many municipalities in the nation working to curb the environmental and fiscal waste created by single-use bags.
The court ruled that the levy on paper bags is not a tax because retailers keep all of the money collected, as set forth in the ordinance. Retailers use the money to offset the costs of supplying paper bags to customers and complying with the ordinance, as well as providing consumer education materials.
Since the measure took effect in July, retailers have seen a 94% reduction in the distribution of single-use bags in unincorporated areas, according to preliminary analysis by the county’s Department of Public Works. Environmental group Heal the Bay has led the legislative fight to enact bag bans throughout L.A. County and at the state level as part of its ongoing efforts to tackle plastic pollution in California seas and neighborhoods.
“Today’s ruling sends a strong message to plastic polluters that last-ditch legal attempts to thwart environmental progress won’t work,” said Kirsten James, Heal the Bay’s director of water quality. “The plastics industry knows the writing is on the wall.”
The decision will provide breathing room for the dozens of cities statewide considering similar ordinances, many of which have been threatened with legal action by bag manufacturers. In the next few weeks, the city of Los Angeles will consider a bag ban, which may include provisions similar to the county’s ordinance.
“An appeal is expected, but this is a great first test case for Prop 26,” said Jennie Romer, a lawyer and founder of plasticbaglaws.org. “It’s encouraging for California cities moving forward with second generation plastic bag ordinances.”
California municipalities spend nearly $25 million each year just to collect and dispose of plastic bag waste. Less than 5% of plastic grocery bags are recycled each year statewide, so the remainder clogs precious landfill, litters public spaces and harms animal life when the bags infiltrate waterways.
Nearly four dozen municipalities statewide have enacted single-use shopping bag ordinances, including San Jose, Long Beach, Santa Monica and Palo Alto. Heal the Bay is sponsoring statewide legislation with Assemblymember Julia Brownley that would ban plastic bags throughout the state of California. The measure is expected to be considered by the state legislature this summer.
About Heal the Bay Heal the Bay is a nonprofit environmental organization making Southern California coastal waters and watersheds, including Santa Monica Bay, safe, healthy and clean. We use science, education, community action and advocacy to pursue our mission.