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Opinion: Thoughts on Plastic Bag Ban Discussion at Monrovia Council Meeting

A 12-year supply of plastic bags.

A few observations about discussion at the City Council meeting the other night about banning plastic carry-out grocery bags. As always, I know people have different views on this topic, so please feel free to tell me I'm an idiot in the Comments section below.

1. One speaker said the average number of plastic bags used is 83 per person per year, as if that was shocking. Okay, assuming that is true, this little package of 1,000 shopping bags (available at Smart & Final, where I took this picture) represents a 12-year supply. I wish all our trash was so compact.

2. Chris Shevlin, who was on the ad hoc committee considering banning the bags, asked where the banning stops. What, he asked, are we going to ban next? Then, as if to prove his point, several speakers in favor of the ban said that the ban will not solve everything, but it is a start.

3. One speaker in favor of the ban said that even banana peels and newspapers, when buried in landfills, do not decay because the earth keeps the air away. Umm. Okay. But isn't one of the objections to plastic carry-out bags that they don't decay? So if banana peels and newspapers also don't decay, are we supposed to stop eating bananas and stop reading newspapers?

4. There was an approving reference or two to Pasadena and its plastic bag ban. For me, "Let's be more like Pasadena" is not a good argument. My wife and I moved here from Pasadena because we prefer Monrovia to Pasadena. My wife, incidentally, does volunteer work in Pasadena, and she and another woman were going through a cabinet trying to locate something and came upon a wad of plastic carry-out bags. "Oh!" the other woman said, "Can I have those? I live in Pasadena and we can't get them."

5. One speaker in favor of the ban said that there are lots of nice products for sale for picking up dog waste. So... forcing people to buy plastic bags to replace free plastic bags is less polluting?

6. A couple speakers said people simply need to be "trained," or to "train themselves" to use reusable bags. Not a big selling point for me as I'm not wild about being "trained" by my government.

- Brad Haugaard


  1. All excellent points, Brad - thanks!!!

  2. Thanks for letting me know you can buy the bags at Smart & Final. I'll just buy them there and use those for my reusable bags at the store and to pick up dog waste if the ban goes through.

  3. I'm not really for or against the ban, I already use re-useable bags because they carry so much more than the plastic and are much studier. However, I don't mind that they are used as most people find a way to re-purpose them at least once. Having said that, the arguments presented here in opposition of the ban are weak at best and almost make me support the ban if this is the logic used to oppose it.

    #1 - There are 37,000 people in Monrovia, according to your math that's over 3 million single use bags per year, or 3,000 boxes of your smart and final bags. And that's just one of the smaller cities in LA. If the average holds, the County of LA uses approximately 750 million bags per year, or 750,000 smart and final boxes, not exactly a small and compact amount of trash considering it doesn't need to exist. But, more importantly, it's more about what the plastic does to our world, than how much of it there is. Do a little Pacific Gyre reading and see what plastic does to our oceans alone. You wouldn't get away with saying "well, I only used a small amount of radioactive uranium, so I can just throw it anywhere right?" Obviously, that's stretching the comparison a little as uranium in far more dangerous than plastic bags, but the point stands, destructive and/or dangerous objects are such no matter their size.

    #2 - The slippery slope argument is always a complete waste of time, it assumes that because the ban was passed than other, more onerous bans, will immediately be in place without discussion by the community or approval from our leaders. "it's a start" could mean a ton of things, one of which only extends the ban to other retailers or users of plastic bags. I'm sure those in opposition take it to mean we will ban gasoline in the next 2 years.

    #3 - We can compost banana peels and recycle newspaper, they are not plastic bags.

    #4 - Of course the lady from Pasadena can still get plastic bags, that's preposterous, it's just that she has to go to smart and final and pay for them now and that does not work for her. I'm not a big fan of the "be more like Pasadena" argument, but I am a big supporter of seeing what works in other communities and attempting to replicate that here.

    #5 - First of all, no one is forcing anyone to do anything,plastic bags aren't the only way to pick up dog poop, I have three, I should know. Besides if this was a forced-plastic-bag-purchase-for-dog-poo-program it would still eliminate a large portion of the plastic bags in the City. No one uses every single bag they have for dog poop and tons of people don't have dogs!

    #6 - This is the worst argument of them all. Your government, at every level, "trains" you do things everyday, it's called obeying the law. You stop at red lights, right? That's a product of the government training us to use signals properly. Is it really that hard to remember to bring bags with you to the store? Do you often leave your money at home? Things change all the time and we humans have an amazing ability to adapt.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Rich. Some responses:

      #1 My point is that as a percentage of the volume of trash that is created, plastic bag trash is minuscule.

      #2 Glad to hear that "just a start" may in fact mean that ban proponents intend to do something other than increase restrictions in the future. I admit that wasn't my first interpretation.

      #3 We can (and do) recycle plastic bags.

      #4 Did you really think I meant that it was *impossible* for the Pasadena woman to get plastic bags?

      #5 You are objecting here, but apparently not to the point I made.

      #6 Granted. But my point is that there is a balance between liberty and restrictions, and I balk at absurd restrictions.

  4. #1 - You have aptly ignored my more salient point, it's not the quantity of trash, but the nature of the trash. Plastic never biodegrades to the point that it isn't plastic anymore, it just gets small enough to be ingested, which causes major problems. They have found bacteria in the ocean that consumes plastic, but it is still unclear if the bacteria is a good thing for the ecosystem overall, it potentially is more harmful than the plastic itself. Again, this is overstating the point, but you wouldn't drink just a little cyanide would you? When the bags are mostly still intact they kill all forms of large wildlife, mainly birds and turtles. When it breaks down to its molecular level it absorbs all manner of toxins from the ocean and then gets ingested by fish, which are then eaten by, you know, us. There may be a day when DDT and PCBs are considered condiments, but that day isn't today.

    #2 - I didn't say the ban proponents want something other than further restrictions, in fact, I said they probably do want more bans. The more important point is that you don't know what they mean/want, and it's all a moot point anyway since they still have to have bans approved. You can't just want something banned and make it so. If a ban was proposed that was truly disruptive to peoples everyday lives and pocketbooks it won't be approved. The slippery slope argument is the same one that says gay marriage will equal human/animal marriage at some point, it's nonsense starting point for any argument

    #3 - This is true, a whopping 2% of them are recycled nationwide. But you have to bring them to the store to be recycled, so you either have to remember your plastic bags or your reusable ones, which according to you is an infringement on your civil liberties. 98% of them end up in the trash. Even if we did get closer to 100% (than 2%) of them in our trash and recycle bins a good chuck of that blows away from trash trucks, landfills etc before they are ever buried.
    #4 - Nope, don't think that at all, but that is what you said the lady said. "I can't get them" is a pretty definitive statement. She didn't say "I have to go out of my to buy them now," or "My market no longer provides a bag welfare program so I have to go earn them myself," she said, (and maybe even thinks) she can't get them anymore.

    #5 - Your point was that forcing people to buy bags to pick up poop was no less polluting than giving them away for free. My point was that the ban would eliminate a large portion of the bags in circulation, thus reducing bag-based pollution. This is due to the fact that not every bag given out by the store will be used for poop. How is that not responding to your argument? Maybe I misinterpreted your point, but your statement seems pretty clear. I probably was a little flippant in my response, so I can see how it would be confusing.

    #6 - And asking you to pay for a product (paper bag) or bring your own (whatever you want to use) is an absurd restriction on your liberties? That seems like a big stretch.

    Again, I'm not a major ban supporter or opponent, but the more I look at the issue the more I am leaning pro-ban. It seems like supporters have valid scientific and environmental arguments and the opposition is basically "Don't make me do something I'm not used to" or "It's not that bad" or "Why should I pay for something I've been getting for free" which are all terribly selfish arguments.

    Ban supporters seem willing to put in a little effort in hopes of making the world a better place for everyone, while ban opponents seemed only concerned with themselves. Yup, made up my mind, go ban go! (sorry, still chanting from last nights game! Go Kings!)

    My mind can change though if any opponent has a valid argument for opposing the ban that doesn't revolve around the ban being a slight annoyance and/or inconvenience on themselves and outweighs the potential positive gains from the ban.

  5. My god, what are you a child? I'm 23 and I've been using reusable shopping bags for 7 years. It's not that hard to grab a reusable bag on your way out the door. I frequent cities that already have this ban in place like Pasadena, Santa Monica and WeHo and the world didn't end because of a plastic bag ban. It's not a huge life changing ordeal, bring your own bag or pay 10 cents for a paper one. Suck it up and accept a little change.

    1. We use re-usable shopping bags frequently, but I don't need the city telling me how to carry groceries, any more than I need it to tell me which side to part my hair on or how to tie my shoes. Adults are able to make those decisions on their own.

    2. Agree with you Brad. I am fed up with the government telling me what to do with my own life. BTW, I do use ALL of those plastic bags, not only to pick up dog poop, but also in the little trash cans I have through the house, 6 to be exact. And nope, I am not going to pay for those bags, nor will I use reusable ones (which eventually we have to wash or dispose of them). I am planning to tell the clerk at Pavillions to just put all of my groceries in the cart - no bags, and have someone take them to my car.

    3. Boy am I gonna enjoy watching you make 400 trips between your car and house to bring your groceries in one handful at a time. How petty are you that you will create a major inconvenience for yourself and be a total pain the stores behind just to not buy 10 cent bags to hold your hundreds of dollars of groceries? Face it, you've been a longtime beneficiary of a welfare program that is now being eliminated, the Constitution does not guarantee you free anything for life except dom, and that's only is you follow the rules.

      I'm glad you use all of them, that's very rare, but that also means they have value to you, which in turn, means you will probably pay for them when you can't get them for free anymore. Either that or pick up dog poop with your hand?

      Speaking of hands, do you wash your clothes by hand in the crick or something? Cause it's really super easy to wash a bag and even easier to throw it away after 5-7 years of use. But maybe you're right, we do eventually throw them away, so maybe this whole argument is pointless because 1 re-usable fabric bag in the landfill is clearly as bad the few hundred plastic ones it replaced over it's lifespan.

      Hopefully you'll be lucky enough to be in front of me in line at the store, cause I'll buy your stupid bags for you so the poor store clerks aren't subjected to your petty and selfish nature. Then I'll just make that money right back with the store credit for bringing my own bags, ah, capitalism at work!

  6. There are numerous empty store front on Myrtle, and I know of at least 2 more in Old Town soon to be vacated. This ban offers potential retailers absolutely no incentive to move here.

    Monrovia is .1& of the State's population. This ban will have vastly more local inconvenience than global benefit.

    And Lord help us if turn our more like Pasadena.

    Oh: One last thing, this for Karen Suarez. I realize that you think people who doubt Global Warming/Cooling/Climate change are to stupid for conversation, but 11 years ago, a Government report (by the Pentagon, not exactly folks who skimp on spending on science), predicted the following:

    "In 2007, a particularly severe storm causes the ocean to break through levees in the Netherlands making a few key coastal cities such as The Hague unlivable. Failures of the delta island levees in the Sacramento River region in the Central Valley of California creates an inland sea and disrupts the aqueduct system transporting water from northern to southern California because salt water can no longer be kept out of the area during the dry season. Melting along the Himalayan glaciers accelerates, causing some Tibetan people to relocate. Floating ice in the northern polar seas, which had already lost 40% of its mass from 1970 to 2003, is mostly gone during summer by 2010. As glacial ice melts, sea levels rise and as wintertime sea extent decreases, ocean waves increase in intensity, damaging coastal cities. Additionally millions of people are put at risk of flooding around the globe (roughly 4 times 2003 levels), and fisheries are disrupted as water temperature changes cause fish to migrate to new locations and habitats, increasing tensions over fishing rights."

    Perhaps I'm to stupid to notice different, but I'm pretty sure that "science" was a bit off. What other "scientific predictions" do you demand we, alone, adhere to?

    1. Your first point is great, and almost sways me the other way, but would a retailer really balk at coming to Monrovia because they didn't have to buy bags to give out for free? Seems sorta the opposite of good business sense. I realize that a very small minority of people will drive out of their way to visit a store that provides free bags, but I have to think the profits lost from that very small minority are offset by the lack of bag purchases. That's pretty big thumb in the eye of our local businesses that you would rather patronize and support an Arcadia or Duarte store just because they were allowed to give you 30 cents worth of free bags.

      I have addressed your "it's not that bad, we don't use that much compared to everyone else" argument twice already. It's a selfish, short-sided, myopic viewpoint. If you need a selfish reason to support the ban how about "I don't want to eat plastic or any of the toxins absorbed by plastic" This is not a prediction, this is a fact, plastic molecules attract and absorb many toxic substances and are then ingested by fish which are then ingested by us.

      And then you really ruined any chance of my support with this excerpt from a study you seem to claim is an absolute prediction of the future based on science. Here's the intro to that report

      "The purpose of this report is to imagine the unthinkable - to push the boundaries of current research on climate change so we may better understand the potential implications on United States National Security.

      We have interviewed leading climate change scientists, conducted additional research, and reviewed several interaction of the scenario with these experts. The scientists support this project, but caution that the scenario depicted is extreme in two fundamental ways. First, they suggest the occurrences we outline would most likely happen in a few regions, rather than globally. Second, they say the magnitude of the event may be considerably smaller.

      We have created a climate change scenario that although not the most likely, is plausible and would challenge the United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately." - An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and Its Implications for United States National Security, October 2003.

      The intro to the report states it is not a likely scenario and used as an exercise in national security efforts, this is not a "we expect it to happen" prediction, this is a "well, if all hell in a hand-basket breaks out" scenario so we can prepare ourselves. You know, the same reason you probably have an earthquake kit in your house, to prepare for the worst, and attempt to mitigate any negative issues that may arise all while hoping for the best.

      The Pacific Garage Patch isn't a prediction, it actually exists right now and is comprised mainly of plastic. Look it up in a science journal, not a news site or tv show, which has to be where you got that quote originally, no non-partisan scientist would have given you that synopsis based on reading the whole report and actually wanting you to understand what it says.

  7. People, don't feed the troll and it will go away...

    1. Thanks you so much for your valuable and obviously well-reasoned and thoroughly researched contribution to this conversation, if only the internet had more people like you.

      You may want to reread what a troll, it might help you understand why it sounds like there are cars driving on your roof.

    2. I have a ham-on-rye for you, Rich G: according to - within internet parlance, a troll is a "person who submits deliberately inflammatory articles to an internet discussion."

      You made your points, eloquently, once in the beginning and this was enough for all reading the comments to understand your viewpoints. However you replied twice more with what has now become empty rhetoric that is now inflammatory.

      You, sir, are trolling.

    3. My comments may be sarcastic and wry, as is my personality, but they are not intended to be inflammatory in any way. They are educational and humorous. Your comment is a one-off, nothing comment under an anonymous pseudonym intended only to derail the conversation and undermine my statements by qualifying me as some nut-job looking to incite internet violence, or in other words, a deliberately inflammatory comment.

      Everyone else is either adding to the discussion or voicing their support in one direction or the other.

      You sir, or ma'am, we may never know, are the troll here.

  8. This Rich G. guy is pretty awesome :)

    1. Agreed. Articulate and accurate.

  9. I appreciate the compassionate arguments in favor of the bag ban however it is not necessary for every aspect of our lives to be dictated by laws. This type of issue can and should be handled by education and freedom of consumers to make smart choices.

  10. If consumers made smart choices, the oceans and waterways would not be polluted with plastic. This issue reminds me of the smoking bans in bars and restaurants some years ago. Very controversial. Many of the same arguments about restricting our freedoms, and businesses losing customers. None of the doomsday projections came to pass, and public health is better for it.