The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday, Dec. 6, to ban the sale and distribution of Styrofoam products by businesses, starting in April 2023 for businesses with more than 26 employees and extending the policy to smaller businesses in April 2024.
Additionally, the council adopted an ordinance to apply the city’s regulation on single-use paper and plastic bags ban to more shops and a third ordinance to implement a “zero waste” policy at city facilities and events.
This week’s vote was just the latest in a series of actions the council has taken over the past decade to reduce Angelenos’ reliance on the use of plastic, including a decision in 2013 to ban grocery stores from providing single-use plastic bags and another decision last year that restricted restaurants from providing plastic straws, utensils and other dining accessories unless a customer requested them.
“This world is drowning in plastic,” Council President Paul Krekorian said during a news conference ahead of Tuesday’s vote. In fact, he said, there is so much micro-plastic in the environment that “in any given week, every one of us ingests enough plastic from food and water to make a credit card.”
He added that less than 10% of all plastic ever manufactured has been recycled.
“This myth that somehow we can recycle our way out of this problem has to be identified for the lie that it is,” said Krekorian.
The ordinance the council adopted Tuesday prohibits the sale and distribution of expanded polystyrene products, commonly referred to as Styrofoam.
Styrofoam products aren’t biodegradable or economically recyclable, and their main component, styrene, has been classified as a possible human carcinogen, according to the ordinance. Chemicals can also leach into food stored in Styrofoam containers, and such products could end up in open spaces, rivers and oceans.
Emily Parker, a coastal and marine scientist with Heal the Bay, said single-use plastics “wreak havoc” on our bodies and ecosystems and that Styrofoam represented the “most egregious of all forms of plastic.”
“Plastic has its place, but using a material that was designed to last forever in something that is used only once — often for just moments — does not make any sense,” she said.
But not everyone in the city supported the ordinance.
Victor Reyes, legislative affairs manager with the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, told the council before its vote that rather than pass the ordinance, the city should defer to a state bill passed earlier this year that aims for a major reduction of plastics use — though Senate Bill 54 does not ban polystyrene outright.
“This new law should be given time to work before local government adopts separate packaging requirements,” Reyes said. “A statewide uniform set of rules can help drive system efficiency and ensure materials are available that are best suited and cost-effective for specific uses and customers.”
Reyes said VICA supports policies that “expand recycling programs, reduce waste and create new markets for recovered materials,” but that it believes these objectives are better achieved under the state law.
The council nevertheless voted 12-0 to adopt the ordinance, which does not apply to health and residential care facilities.
In addition to the Styrofoam ban, the council on Tuesday voted for an ordinance to promote the use of reusable bags.
In 2013, the council passed an ordinance banning single-use paper and plastic bags at grocery stores, pharmacies and specified retailers.
This week, elected officials expanded that policy to include more shops, including retail stores like Macy’s, hardware stores, big-box stores and farmers markets. Under the newly adopted ordinance, shops can’t provide single-use plastic bags but must offer or provide reusable bags or single-use recyclable paper bags. Customers will be charged 10 cents per single-use paper bag with limited exceptions.
Additionally, the council voted to prohibit single-use plastic foodware at city facilities and at events on city property and to require any vendor contracting with the city to donate surplus edible food to a food rescue organization and recycle food scraps to cut down on waste.
“Today, Los Angeles is once again taking the lead in defense of our environment,” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who chairs the council’s Energy, Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee.