Aiming for ‘zero waste,’ L.A. backs new restrictions on plastic food ware
The City Council unanimously approved more than a dozen measures Wednesday to tighten restrictions on plastic bags, utensils, food containers and other disposables with a goal of making Los Angeles a “zero waste” city.
The measures, 14 in all, direct the city attorney to draft ordinances to expand the already existing plastic bag ban and bind city government to uphold zero-waste endeavors across its facilities and events, among other initiatives.
Immediate changes will take place only at city-owned and sponsored events and properties — where there will be restrictions and bans on single-use plastics and polystyrene — while the city attorney works with the departments overseeing litter, waste and procurement to draft citywide ordinances.
For now, the city government will begin to phase out single-use or disposable cups, water bottles, sealed condiment packages or plastic cups, forks, plates or bowls at city-owned venues, such as the zoo. Instead, reusable items, such as drinking glasses or bottles, must be available.
Condiments will be served from dispensers and water refill stations will be installed or made available at community events, catered events and in city-owned restaurants and cafeterias.
For prepackaged foods, the Bureau of Sanitation will work with vendors to find packaging that can be minimized, recycled or composted.
“In all of these things our objective is not just to have changes made in city of Los Angeles, but to lead the way for the rest of the state and country to follow,” said Councilman Paul Krekorian, who along with Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell, Paul Koretz and Nury Martinez shepherded these directives through the council from his seat on the Energy and Environment Committee.
The council actions came a week after Los Angeles County supervisors finalized a ban on polystyrene products and restrictions on single-use plastic food ware items from restaurants, stores, hospital cafeterias and food trucks in unincorporated areas.
The city has already passed several waste-reduction ordinances, such as a ban on single-use plastic garbage bags from grocery stores, as well as “by request only” restrictions on disposable plates, utensils and straws at restaurants.
But for the past several years, Krekorian and others said, they have wanted to do more. They cite the blight of plastics on the streets, in parks and waterways and on the beaches, and note the burden and cost of picking up and processing that litter.
“For too long the petrochemical industry has been putting these costs on us. It’s time to put an end to that and stop this at its source,” Krekorian said.
Krekorian and others said plastic waste has increased over the years, and spiked during the pandemic.
The measures approved Wednesday were derived from a report compiled this year by the Bureau of Sanitation that officials called a “master plan” for how to phase out single-use plastics.
In addition to the items for drafting ordinances and reducing waste at city facilities and events, the orders will require that every city employee receive waste training and that the Bureau of Sanitation and others begin an environmental review to make certain the new ordinances comply with California law.
This will ensure that if those ordinances pass, they won’t get locked up in lawsuits, said Alison Waliszewski, a co-chair of Reusable LA, a plastic pollution and reuse advocacy group.
“What the city is doing is very smart,” she said, noting that while L.A. County’s moves to ban single-use plastics and polystyrene were relatively quick, they could be vulnerable to attacks from industry.
Business groups voiced concerns about the steps taken Wednesday.
“While we certainly support objectives for eliminating waste in the environment, the report includes a broad range of policies that are deeply concerning to us, and will negatively impact our industries, employees and customers,” Harry Semerdjian, senior manager of public policy for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, said at the hearing.
He said the report lacks details on how businesses will be affected.
Sarah Garfinkle, a legislative analyst with the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., also called in to the meeting to express her group’s opposition.
“It is not clear these policies will reduce litter,” she said, adding that the council was moving to “ban products that are efficient, effective and affordable.”