Westport Leads; LA Follows

Mostly, whatever Westport’s got, Los Angeles has more.

People. Beaches. Traffic.

But for nearly 4 years we had something LA did not: a ban on plastic bags.

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council voted 13-1 to phase out plastic bags at supermarkets over the next 16 months. It’s the largest US city to do so.

The LA ban differs somewhat from Westport’s. Theirs covers supermarkets only; our, all retail stores.

And Los Angeles will charge customers 10 cents for each paper bag. Here, they’re free.

But while the California vote seems almost archaic to us now, it’s instructive to look back at 2008. The RTM vote made Westport the 1st town in Connecticut — and one of the few in the country — with such an ordinance.

Many Westporters were not pleased. What about garbage bags, lawn and leaf bags, UPS bags, even sandwich bags? some smirked. (Well, they should be banned too, proponents countered.)

Paper bags are even worse for the environment than plastic! one side said.

Billy Ray Cyrus finds a good use for plastic bags.

There were arguments that better recycling of plastic bags would serve the same purpose, with less hassle. That plastic is not the real problem — littering is. Even that plastic bags are necessary to pick up dog poop.

Is this really an ordinance that does good? opponents asked. Or does it just feel good?

I have no hard evidence, but it seems many Westporters regularly tote cloth bags into supermarkets. Certainly, lots of local businesses and non-profits make them available, as part of their marketing and branding efforts.

But the bottom line is this: Despite all the naysayers, we adapted quickly. These days, getting plastic bags at stores outside Westport is almost as surprising as seeing smokers.

Soon, nearly 4 million Angelenos will realize what 25,000 Westporters have known for years: Like it or loath it, the plastic bag ban works.

23 responses to “Westport Leads; LA Follows

  1. Stop Making Sense

    Depends on what your definition of ‘works’ is. Doesn’t mean it’s environmementally better, even your beloved NYT has said plastic bags (and they’re not really plastic) are less harmful than paper bags.
    If you mean we were all forced to adapt regardless of actual results, yes, then the feel good libs have succeeded.
    And in the end, that’s what it was all about anyway.
    As for me, I go to Stews and get my ‘plastic’ bags and stopped going to Stop ‘n Shop and their crappy paper bags that rip open with one item.

    • I save my Stew’s bags and use them at Stop and Shop. If I forget to bring them, I ask for double bags.

    • Agreed on the paper bags ripping! Since I am equi-distant to the Stop & Shop in Westport and the one in Norwalk, I have shifted my S&S trips to Norwalk where I can get plastic. Also, Stews continues to have the best plastic bags. More revenue for Norwalk and less for Westport…

      • Most of these laws have unintended consequences, but the feel good aspect of the law is all that really matters.

      • By the way Stop & Stop gives you back 5 cents for every reusable bag you provide, regardless of condition.

  2. Andy Yemma

    It’s also very uncommon to see plastic bags snagged in branches and on power lines or clogging storm drains and washing up on the beaches of Westport these days, as opposed to not so long ago. This was a net win for Westport and is spreading nationally. As James Brown sang: “I feel good, like I knew I would.”

  3. Bryan Sivak

    In 2009, the city council here in D.C. passed a law implementing a 5¢ charge per bag at any retail location, paper or plastic. The law took effect January 1, 2010 to the expected mix of support and criticism. 5¢ is a fairly nominal fee, so I find it fascinating that in the first 6 months of implementation, retail establishments reported a decline of 50-80% in bag usage. The intention of the law was to decrease the number of plastic bags making their way into the Anacostia River watershed, which has happened to the tune of over a 60% reduction. On top of all that, the merchant keeps 1-2¢ of the fee and the rest goes to the city — this has generated millions of dollars of revenue which is earmarked for Anacostia cleanup.

    Needless to say, I haven’t heard anyone complain about this law in a long time.

  4. That picture above reminds me of people who pick up after their dogs in Winslow Park but then throw the plastic bag, with its contents inside, on the ground. If you take a stroll through the Park you will see dozens on bags on the ground. What’s with that?

    • I have wondered about this, too! In winter, when there are no leaves on the trees, you can see that people have tossed those little blue bags into the woods. They can’t just carry them along to the trash can?

  5. Stop Making Sense

    It seems dog poop bags are the issue, maybe Westport should ban dogs. Makes about as much sense.

    • Good one.
      If we ban dogs, can we put the Y on Winslow Park?
      Both paper & plastic sides spoke to the RTM and it was a tie for environmental impact. The argument of no plastic blowing around and into waterways is the best reason I’ve heard. But we should ban flimsy plastic bags, cause nobody let’s go of a Stu Bag.

  6. Jeff Wieser

    Thanks Dan for the update. As an RTM sponsor, I get a lot of positive comments on the ban – and a very small number of negative ones (Sorry JM!), but three years and a bit into it, I think Westport can be proud of doing this for our children and grandchildren. I don’t consider myself a “lib,” but as a former banker, the numbers are impressive.I think it is conservative to say that the “average” Westport household uses 4 fewer plastic bags per week than it did before the ban. There are 10,000 households in Westport, so that is 40,000 fewer bags per week and over 52 weeks more than 2,000,000 per year. In the three + years of the ban, little old Westport is responsible for keeping 6,000,000+ plastic bags out of the system. Most people are indeed responsible with their bags, but if 1% of those end up “blowing in the wind,” that’s 60,000 bags we’ve kept out of trees and that great “Pacific swirl.” Sure wish more communities were as enlightened as ours!

    • I sure wish you had done a more thorough analysis of the impact of the ban; but is nice that you think so much of yourself.

      • It probably makes you “feel good” to post a gratuitous insult to a well-intentioned RTM member under the cloak of “anonymous.” Couldn’t you have chosen a pseudonym, or do you not know the meaning of the word?

        • “gratuitous insult” Who doesn’t love irony? “well-intentioned” How would you know? Is it possible that his intentions were to be self-serving. Your screed did not deal with the primary deficiency of his argument; a lack of a thorough analysis.

    • Stop Making Sense

      So how much water, chemicals and energy is used to manufacture new or recycled paper bags and transport these much heavier bags?
      Seems your analysis is only looking at one side of the equation, therefore your conclusion is incomplete at best.
      If you truly did an in-depth comprehensive anyalsis then you would be able to give the results comparing each product and the net gains.
      Otherwise it’s all wishful thinking and voodoo science.

  7. David J. Loffredo

    Our family has made the move to reusable bags (most of which were made from recyled materials) and we keep them in the trunks of both of our cars. So it’s not paper vs. plastic – it’s neither – which is really the goal of the program.

  8. Linda Smith

    OK, this was one of my proudest moments, that I stepped up to the plate and spoke in favor of the plastic-bags ban when it was first proposed. I found out from a Patagonia employee that they hadn’t used plastic bags for years and not a single customer ever complained.

    I too see almost everyone going into Trader Joe’s carrying their recyclable bag(s) and many of those going into at Stop & Shop. My husband, Ken, is much better at reminding me that we need to take in a bag, but it WORKS. I can’t believe Stop Making Sense doesn’t just keep a couple of recyclable bags in the car so he/she won’t have to drive all the way to Stew’s just to get a plastic bag! Guess she/he doesn’t mind the price of gas. I am SO proud of our town for being one of the first towns on the East Coast to do this!

    And it’s so nice to use a very STURDY bag that won’t tear or add filth to our streams and parks.

    • I am sure that Patagonia customers will complain when the town extends the ban to include paper bags. The ultimate goal is for consumers to only use reusable bags. People should be buying new clothes and carrying them out of the store in reusable bags that have been festering in their car trunks.

      Also, there is plenty of evidence that people ARE complaining about the lack of plastic bags in Westport grocery channels.

  9. Uh, anyone know why Goodwill in Westport STILL distributes plastic bags? … And, yes, the dog people are way out of control. And yet their unbridled sociopathic sense of privilege is the kind of thing that makes Westport feared and admired by the multitudes …

  10. Brian Nixon

    I grew up in Westport and now live in Southern California, more specifically Long Beach. Our city has had a ban in place since July of ‘11 and yes they do charge $0.10 for every “paper” bag if you don’t bring your “green” bags. And just like with any other change, over time it becomes part of your routine to bring bags with you to the store. It still does not change the fact that people are slobs and as mentioned in the article, plastic bags are not the issue, littering is. You should see Long Beach harbor after the 1st rains of the season, it would make you sick.