msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/16/2010 5:00:47 PM ET 2010-11-16T22:00:47

Parts of Los Angeles County have joined other California communities in banning stores from using single-use plastic bags.

County supervisors approved the measure 3-1 on Tuesday in hopes of preventing billions of bags from polluting neighborhoods and waterways. It bans stores from giving customers single-use plastic bags and would require them to charge 10 cents for each paper bag.

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An exception exists for small bags used to keep fruit, vegetables or raw meat separate from other products.

The county says 25 percent of the litter it picks up is plastic bags.

The ordinance, which goes into effect starting in July, would apply to unincorporated parts of the county where an estimated 1.1 million people live. It does not include the 88 cities within the county, including Los Angeles.

Supporters erupted in clapping and cheering when the ban was approved.

The vote was especially meaningful for Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who tried and failed to pass a statewide ban in August. Brownley has been an outspoken critic of the use of plastic bags, saying only a very small percentage are recycled and that they take hundreds of years to decompose.

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"This is just the beginning of a wave of bans against single-use plastic bags across California," Brownley predicted.

Opponents who spoke at the meeting urged supervisors to vote against the ban, saying it would cause residents to lose much-needed jobs and that the fees for reusable and paper bags would be an unfair burden on residents in poorer neighborhoods.

Velma Union, pastor at The Lord's Church in southwest Los Angeles, said the supervisors seemed more concerned about saving the environment than people.

"There's clearly an environmental push here," she said. "Where's the balance? I don't see that anywhere."

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Proponents hope that this will spur other cities to adopt similar measures. Other California communities such as Santa Monica, Marin, San Jose and Santa Clara also are considering bans this year.

Longtime clean water advocate Mark Gold, with the environmental group Heal the Bay, called the vote a "huge win."

"The cost of convenience can no longer be at the cost of the environment for centuries to come," said Gold.

Within California, Malibu, San Francisco, Palo Alto and Fairfax have also banned bans on single-use plastic bags.

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But those bans are less restrictive. San Francisco, for example, allows bioplastic bags made from corn starch. Some activists say they do not degrade in the ocean.

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Moreover, the 10 cent charge for each paper bag goes beyond most bans, and is meant to encourage buyers to switch to cloth bags.

Discouraging plastic bag use through fees or bans has also gained traction outside of the U.S. in nations such as China, Mexico, South Africa, Ireland and Bangladesh.

In January, Washington, D.C., implemented a 5-cent surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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