Los Angeles Ordinance to Reduce Plastic Waste Requires Single-Use Dishes, Cutlery to Be Compostable or Fully Recyclable

Styrofoam food containers and plastic waste in Ballona Creek in Los Angeles County, California
Styrofoam food containers and plastic waste in Ballona Creek in Los Angeles County, California. Citizen of the Planet / UIG / Getty Images

In Los Angeles County, California, the Board of Supervisors has given the green light for a new ordinance aimed at reducing plastic waste. The ordinance will require all takeout items, such as takeaway containers and other dishes and cutlery, to be either compostable or fully recyclable by 2023.

Additionally, restaurants with seating for customers who want to dine-in will have to provide reusable dishes and cutlery, rather than single-use items. The ban on throwaway diningware will apply to most places that sell or serve food, including food trucks and farmers markets. There are some exceptions, such as for emergency food distribution or for foods provided to hospital patients. The ordinance will also ban sales of expanded polystyrene foam, often referred to as the name brand Styrofoam, for items like coolers, dining ware, and even pool toys.

“Single-use articles and expanded polystyrene products are rarely recycled and may, in fact, contaminate otherwise recoverable waste streams,” the ordinance explains. “Because single-use articles and products made from expanded polystyrene are extremely lightweight, they are very susceptible to blowing away, and they frequently become litter that pollutes waterways and oceans… Restricting the use of single-use plastic foodware and expanded polystyrene products will reduce the environmental impacts of those products.”

A business or vendor can incur a fine of up to $100 per day for a violation and up to $1,000 per year. Most places will need to comply when the law goes into effect in May 2023, although the ordinance will apply to food trucks beginning in November 2023 and for farmers markets, catering facilities, and temporary food facilities beginning in May 2024.

“Today’s action is a major step forward in reducing our reliance on plastics and reducing its harm to human and marine health,” L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in a statement, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “It’s time we put a fork in our use of plastics and took a bite out of the overwhelming amount of plastic county residents needlessly use.”

The new ban will cover the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, which includes several thousands of restaurants and other food service facilities and over 1 million residents.

There are other counties, including San Mateo and Marin counties in California, that have adopted similar ordinances, but the L.A. County ban will impact the highest number of people and could help influence similar policies statewide.

“This is a huge achievement,” Gary Gero, sustainability officer for L.A. County, told the Los Angeles Times. “The county on its own is not going to solve these problems… but when the county acts, that means the ideas are ready to spread.”

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