Los Angeles County is moving to ban single-use plastics, though a vote Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors focused only on county facilities due to concerns about restaurants and food service businesses hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis co-authored a motion to have a number of county departments collaborate on a board policy to eliminate single-use plastics in county workplaces and buildings to the extent feasible.
“This problem has grown during the COVID-19 pandemic, as restaurant and grocery deliveries have increased exponentially and the use of reusable beverage containers and grocery bags was discouraged or disallowed early on,” the motion states.
The supervisors envision the county switching to reusable foodware or compostable or highly recyclable alternatives.
The change would also make it easier to compost and reduce the county’s organic waste in order to comply with Senate Bill 1383, which calls for a 50% reduction by 2020 and 75% by 2025. The state put California counties front and center in managing toward those goals.
In October 2019, Kuehl and Supervisor Janice Hahn championed a more ambitious plan. On their recommendation, the county asked researchers at UCLA’s Luskin Center to provide a report on managing waste and set a goal of developing an ordinance by March 2020 to reduce single-use plastics throughout unincorporated areas of the county.
The UCLA researchers found that plastic food service ware is rarely collected for recycling — primarily due to size, potential food contamination and undesirable materials — bolstering the argument to cut down on use.
Then COVID-19 struck, and the ordinance was never raised for review.
Now Kuehl and Solis say it’s not the time to impose new rules on restaurants, even though researchers think the transition to reusable or sustainable materials would be cost neutral or slightly cheaper in the long run.
“The county believes this transition should be done in partnership with restaurants when they have the capacity to fully participate in conversations about these policies and determine how to implement any required changes,” the motion reads.
It was unanimously passed without discussion by the board, although at least one member of the public called on the supervisors to do more.
“Please, it doesn’t go far enough,” said Lynne Plambeck, president of the Santa Clarita Organization for Planning and the Environment. “Plastic is just filling everything up. It’s filling up our river(s), it’s filling up our landfills.”
A report from the International Waste Association estimated that the amount of wasted single-use foodware and accessory items has increased about 250% to 300% during the COVID-19 pandemic, as more people pick up food and dine at home.