Los Angeles Votes to Ditch Styrofoam With Citywide Ban

Council members moved to ban certain types of styrofoam across the city, building on its "zero waste" initiative.

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Los Angeles instated a city-wide ban on styrofoam
Image: Hector Vivas (Getty Images)

Los Angeles officials voted to ban styrofoam and other single-use plastics on Thursday in a move to become a “zero waste” city. The 12 city council members who were present at the meeting voted unanimously in favor of the ban, prohibiting the distribution and sale of expanded polystyrene products, more commonly known as Styrofoam.

The city’s ban comes as two other ordinances were passed including closing loopholes in the single-use plastic bag ban instated in 2013 and passing requirements for city departments to have zero-waste at city facilities and events.

According to the Society for Environmental Journalists, styrofoam can have devastating consequences on the environment and also contributes to global warming. Styrofoam decomposes at an extremely slow rate, with some estimates indicating that once styrofoam is in a landfill, it will take roughly 500 years to decompose.

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Estimates reflect that a fraction of styrofoam, about 20%, does not make it into landfills but is instead littered across the U.S. on land and in water. It is not biodegradable, and while in a technical sense it can be recycled, the majority of facilities will not accept it.

This is because most styrofoam mediums like coffee cups or food containers cannot be cleaned easily, and companies cannot make money from recycling styrofoam and spend an average of $1,000 to recoup $200 worth of Styrofoam, according to Earth911.

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Los Angeles has a “zero waste” target of 2050 and the new styrofoam ban, which is set to take effect on April 23, 2023, will affect restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and vendors. It also includes large retail establishments defined as “any commercial establishment located within the city that sells goods directly to customers primarily for the customer’s own consumption or use,” according to the city ordinance. Small businesses will have an additional year to implement the new rule.

More durable materials will be exempt from the ban such as surfboards or coolers, as well as craft supplies, medical devices, and safety devices such as life preservers, helmets, and vehicle impact prevention systems.

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Residential care and health facilities will also be exempt from the ban and in the case of a natural disaster or local emergency declared by the U.S. president or California governor, the ban can be temporarily suspended.

“Today, the second largest city in the nation will send a clear message that expanded polystyrene has no place in our city’s future,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said at a briefing before Tuesday’s meeting ABC7 reported.

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He continued, “We’re leading by example by committing to zero-waste policies in the operation of the city, and we’re moving forward with some of the boldest local ordinances in the country to reduce single-use plastic waste.”

Craig Cadwallader, the policy coordinator with Surfrider South Bay, which focuses on protecting beaches, added at the briefing, “L.A. can lead the pack. What happens in L.A. doesn’t stay in L.A. It’s seen worldwide. So this is a really big deal, and makes a big difference not just here in Los Angeles, but beyond — perhaps in other countries as well.”