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Calif. City Must Consider Impact of Plastic Bag Ban

(CN) - A California appeals court upheld an order requiring Manhattan Beach, Calif., to consider the environmental impacts of its ban on plastic bags. Opponents of the ban say paper bags are even worse for the environment.

Save the Plastic Bag Coalition, an association of plastic bag manufacturers and distributors, filed a lawsuit accusing the city of passing the ordinance without properly considering its effects on the environment.

The Second Appellate District in Los Angeles found enough evidence that the ordinance could increase the use of paper bags, which could be even more damaging to the environment than their plastic counterparts.

"We emphasize that the fair argument test sets a low threshold for preparation of an environmental impact report and reflects a preference for resolving doubts in favor of environmental review," Justice Paul Turner wrote.

Manhattan Beach adopted the ordinance in July 2008, banning retailers from distributing plastic bags at the point of sale. The city said that non-biodegradable plastic bags were ending up in the ocean, damaging marine life and contributing to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

But Save the Plastic Bag Coalition said paper bags were even worse for the environment, citing four studies showing that paper bags used more energy to produce and dispose of, processes that contributed to pollution and acid rain.

Compared to paper bags, plastic bags were found to "use less energy in terms of fuels for manufacturing, less oil, and less potable water," the ruling states. Also, paper bags are between six and 10 times heavier than plastic bags, the studies found, and require more energy to transport and take up more space in landfills.

The appeals court agreed that the city should consider the environmental impacts of its plastic bag ban.

But dissenting Justice Richard Mosk argued that requiring the small city to spend public money on environmental review is an "absurdity."

"Virtually every act taken by government has some effect on the environment," Mosk wrote.

He said the majority relied too heavily on public interest to justify an environmental analysis, even though the city's action does not qualify as a project.

Even if it did, he said the small city would have a "comparatively infinitesimal distribution of paper bags." Plus, Mosk pointed out, the ordinance does not endorse paper bags, but promotes reusable bags.

Manhattan Beach has more than 33,800 residents and 271 licensed retail establishments that might use bags, according to the ruling.

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