Rich Pedroncelli  /  AP
A shopper in California totes goods in a single-use plastic carryout bag.
updated 9/1/2010 9:04:07 PM ET 2010-09-02T01:04:07

American Samoa will make it illegal for stores to hand out plastic bags once a new law takes effect early next year.

Gov. Togiola Tulafono signed the ban into law last week. He says the measure is a step in the right direction toward protecting the natural beauty of American Samoa and its native land and sea creatures.

Advocates of the law say plastic bags litter the landscape, fill streams and pollute the ocean. They say marine life can become entangled in the bags, which take 500 to 1,000 years to decompose.

The law takes effect Feb. 23. It exempts shopping bags produced entirely from non-petroleum-based biodegradable plastic and compostable plastic bags.

Discouraging plastic bag use through fees or bans first gained traction outside of the U.S. in nations such as South Africa, Ireland, China and Bangladesh. In January, Washington, D.C., implemented a 5-cent surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags.

On Tuesday night, California lawmakers rejected a bill to ban the bags.

A handful of California cities already ban single-use plastic bags, after San Francisco became the first to do so in 2007. Officials in Los Angeles County, Redondo Beach and Santa Monica have said they would pursue individual city- and countywide bans in the coming months.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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