California’s two largest cities passed multiple ordinances to limit single-use plastic products, including expanded polystyrene foam containers, on Tuesday.
The legislative moves in Los Angeles and San Diego were framed as complementary with each city’s zero waste goals, as well as broader state policies such as the SB 54 extended producer responsibility law. According to LA Sanitation & Environment, an estimated 97 cities and counties already have various bans on EPS foam products in the state. This includes Los Angeles County, where a policy will begin taking effect in May 2023.
While San Diego once accepted EPS foam in its curbside recycling program, with support from Dart Container Corp., the city now says that “markets for recycling of polystyrene foam are expensive, difficult to find, and the process is energy intensive and costly.”
Starting April 23, 2023, no food, beverage or retail establishment with more than 26 employees can distribute select EPS products. The policy includes exemptions for certain types of facilities. The policy expands to all covered establishments, regardless of size, in April 2024.
According to LASAN, “EPS is neither recyclable nor compostable in the city, does not biodegrade, poses a risk to wildlife, can easily blow out of open garbage cans and trucks because it is so lightweight, and can leach harmful chemicals into the environment when landfilled.”
While Los Angeles already passed a single-use plastic bag ordinance in 2013, and California has since enacted multiple related laws, the city still sees them used in various settings that may be exempt.
This new ordinance will apply to apparel stores, hardware stores, farmers markets, food and beverage establishments and other locations that weren’t previously covered. The policy will take effect in 2023 over multiple phases and will include efforts to promote reusable bags.
Zero waste city facilities and events
Starting in 2023, this third ordinance directs the city government to limit single-use plastic products and promote waste diversion at its own facilities, or events held on city property.
The policy contains numerous provisions focused on areas such as edible food recovery, recycling access for organics and packaging, reusable foodware and limiting the use of paper towels in restrooms.
San Diego passed a ban on certain EPS foam products in 2019, but this was delayed by a lawsuit led by Dart and local restaurant representatives. That issue was settled following the completion of an environmental impact report, allowing the San Diego City Council to proceed.
The ordinance will take effect in early 2023, though a council report states that “many restaurants and other venues have already switched from polystyrene foam to alternative products due to environmental concerns and customer demand.”
The ordinance also states that food vendors may now only offer utensils or straws — specifically those made from plastic or bio-plastic — on request.