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LA vote could spell end for bag of a thousand uses

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Ah, the little plastic grocery bag, we hardly got to know you.

Although it seems as if the single-use grocery bag, as it's formally known, has been around forever, it wasn't until 1977 that it was introduced to U.S. supermarkets, a move that prompted perhaps the most asked question of the following decade: "Paper or plastic?"

As the years went by and plastic won, people began to find myriad other makeshift uses for the little bags with the briefcase-like handles. You could line small trash cans with them, use one to scoop up dog doo and another to carry wet towels home from the beach. You could even use them to take pictures in the rain and not destroy your camera.

The discarded bags, though, had a nasty habit of washing up on beaches by the thousands, clogging storm drains and getting tangled in all sorts of stuff. That raised the ire of environmentalists, who have been on a ban-the-bag quest for years.

Now, with the city of Los Angeles taking the first step toward joining nearly four dozen other California municipalities in outlawing them, the humble little polyethylene bag may be headed for the trash heap of history.

San Francisco already bans the bag. So do San Jose, Long Beach, Berkeley and Malibu.

But LA, with nearly 4 million residents, goes through an estimated 2.7 billion plastic grocery bags a year, according to city officials, and environmentalists believe a ban here will have a huge impact and could even influence the rest of the country to follow suit.

"This is a gateway for sustainability," said Leslie Tamminen of the Clean Seas Coalition, which pushed for the LA ban. "This is meant to change consumer behavior and expand consumer consciousness."

So, using those handy little bags with the tie-shut handles for cleaning up after your dog or cat? Forget about it.

In Santa Monica, many people say they already have.

"I've had to buy a lot more of these," laughed Dana Artress, pulling a little green pet-store doggie bag from her pocket as she walked her longhaired Chihuahua through Pacific Palisades Park.

Santa Monica banned the use of plastic grocery bags more than a year ago, as did Los Angeles County for its unincorporated areas, which is where Artress lives. And although she misses her free bags, she figures it's a small sacrifice to make for the environment.

"Plastic has done a lot of good things," she said. "But I don't think we absolutely need it just to pick up our dog poop."

Indeed, every dog walker, jogger or bicyclist who stopped to talk about plastic bags on a recent sunny afternoon in the park that overlooks the Pacific Ocean agreed wholeheartedly with her.

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