SANTA MONICA—On January 25, Santa Monica approved an ordinance formally banning plastic bags for use in commercial activity within Santa Monica city limits. Various private groups were opposed to this ordinance, since it would require a switch to potentially more environmentally harmful alternatives. The Save the Plastic Bag Coalition had initially threatened legal action in response to the ordinance, but after the new Environmental Impact Review (EIR), this threat has been withdrawn.

Steven Joseph of the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition said he is pleased with the recent EIR, which included some significant changes to the ordinance as it was originally written. “We commend the Santa Monica City Council for making important changes to its ordinance based on the findings in its EIR and the Los Angeles County EIR,” read a statement posted on the Coalition’s website. “The changes were (i) acceptance of polyethylene reusable bags, which Los Angeles County determined in its EIR are far better for the environment than cloth or polypropylene reusable bags; and (ii) permitting restaurants to use plastic bags for prepared food to be consumed off the premises, thereby preventing a major environmentally detrimental switch to paper bags.”

Santa Monica avoided a lawsuit since the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition typically opts for litigation in cases where adequate EIRs are not performed. Manhattan Beach was on the losing end of one such lawsuit. A California Court of Appeals ruled against Manhattan Beach, requiring a more thorough EIR, but stopping short of striking down its ban. According to the Coalition website, “On Jan. 27, 2010, the California Court of Appeal issued its decision in Save The Plastic Bag Coalition v. City of Manhattan Beach. The court ruled that we had presented ”˜substantial evidence’ that paper bags are significantly worse for the environment than plastic bags and that the city should therefore have prepared an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before banning plastic bags.”

The court’s written opinion sheds more light on the particular emphasis on EIRs. “We do not resolve the question of the ultimate merits of whether the plastic bag distribution ban should be implemented,” the court wrote. “All we are saying is that an environmental impact report must be prepared given that it can be fairly argued based on substantial evidence in the record that the ordinance may have a significant environmental impact.”

Santa Monica, by endeavoring to flesh out the details in a more rigorous and scientific fashion, has averted the ire of the Coalition—for now.  Plastic bag use will continue under certain limited conditions in Santa Monica.