Under the plan, which was approved unanimously, grocery stores will be asked to take part in a "Single Use Bag Reduction and Recycling Program," with the goal of reducing the use of the bags by 30 percent by 2010 and by 65 percent by 2013.
According to a county report, 6 billion plastic bags are used every year in Los Angeles County, or roughly 600 bags per person per year. About 45,000 tons of plastic bags are thrown away every year by county residents, with less than 5 percent of bags being recycled.
Perhaps more problematic is the number of bags that are not disposed of properly an wind up littering trees, beaches and streets, according to the report.
"To tackle the litter problem, including plastic carryout bag litter, public agencies in Los Angeles County collectively spend tens of millions of dollars per year on litter prevention, cleanup and enforcement activities," according to the report. "The cost to local governments is expected to dramatically rise over the next few years as agencies strive to comply with the federal Clean Water Act."
The proposed bag-reduction plan originally called for the number of plastic bags to be reduced by 35 percent by 2010 and 70 percent by 2013. But the proposal was amended during an animated discussion among board members, who eventually voted 3-2 to lower the goals to 30 percent and 65 percent. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina opposed the reduction.
If the reduction goals are not met, the county could then implement an all-out ban on the use of the plastic bags. The original plan called for county staffers to have a proposed ordinance prepared by April 1, 2009 banning the bags, but the board agreed -- by the same 3-2 vote -- to extend that deadline until 2010.
San Francisco recently became the first American city to ban plastic bags at chain grocery stores.