Beginning Monday, May 1, restaurants and food facilities in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County must provide only recyclable or compostable food ware such as containers, cups, dishes and cutlery under a new ordinance aimed at reducing waste and fossil fuels.
The ordinance also requires full-service restaurants to use reusable food service ware for dine-in customers, and it prohibits the sale or rental of single-use coolers, packaging and plastic peanuts, and pool toys with the exception of products that are encased in durable material.
Food trucks will have an additional six months to comply. Operators that can demonstrate extreme financial hardships or an inability to serve food safely in alternative packaging can apply for waivers.
“The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the measure in April 2022 to reduce plastic blight, unburden landfills and reduce our dependence on harmful fossil fuels,” according to a statement from the county’s executive office. “The vote made Los Angeles County the largest municipality in the nation to take aggressive action against the scourge of single-use plastics.”
Enforcement of the ordinance will begin with outreach and education, prioritizing education and working with businesses to transition to sustainable, takeout food ware, according to the county.
After the first year, the county will evaluate whether additional measures are need to support businesses to reduce waste, officials said. But violators could eventually be fined up to $100 per day — up to a maximum of $1,000 per year.
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA), said the ordinance is another policy that increases costs without balancing it out for businesses. Small businesses will be hit harder as many don’t have the ability to buy recyclable or compostable food ware in bulk, he said.
“The fact is that food ware has not gone down in cost at all, so this will get passed on to consumers as much has they possibly can,” Waldman said.
The county’s ordinance is another challenge for restaurant owners to manage, he said, adding that in the last three years many restaurants closed down or struggled to stay afloat due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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“These are businesses that create a lot of jobs in the county, and (the county) continually steps on them expecting them to accept the increased costs,” Waldman said. “At one point, they’re just all going to go.”
According to a study from the Overbrook Foundation, an organization aimed at advancing human rights and conservation efforts, nearly 100 million plastic utensils are discarded across the United States each year, but only about 15% of single-use plastic items in the state are recycled.
“California communities spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year on litter cleanup and waste prevention programs,” said Rita Kampalath, acting chief sustainability officer for the county. “But these strategies cannot keep pace with the rapid proliferation of single-use items.”