Still from “American Beauty.”

Taking the lead from some of its biggest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, California’s statewide ban on plastic bags became official Tuesday.

The ban resembles municipal regulations many Californians already know well. The bags, which are derided by lawmakers as a major source of pollution, will be phased out first at larger retailers, and then smaller stores. Retailers can charge a 10 cent fee for paper bags to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable receptacles with them.

The law won’t begin to take effect until July, and the plastic bag industry is gearing up to overturn the new rules by ballot measure.

According to the Associated Press, shoppers who rely on government assistance will be exempt from the 10 cent fee for paper bags, and the state will loan plastic bag manufacturers money to convert their facilities.

Here in Los Angeles, the bag ban has been in effect for some time without much fuss. One problem has been the incorrect handling of reusable plastic bags, which can be recycled more easily than cheaper plastic bags, but just as often end up in the trash.

It will be interesting to see whether other states follow the California example, as is often the case with this laboratory state. Perhaps one day a film student will watch that classic scene from “American Beauty” and ask “what is that thing?”

— Posted by Peter Z. Scheer

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