In a Unanimous Vote, the L.A. City Council Has Now Banned Styrofoam

The council voted unanimously to ban Styrofoam, aka polystyrene, products from retail establishments to large food and beverage businesses
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The crunchy-when-you-bite-it, bright white foam that comes as fun packing peanuts or perfect cups, whether for jumbo coffees or extra-large Cokes stuffed with ice will be out of your life very soon, thanks to the Los Angeles City Council.

As a part of city’s inexorable march toward “zero-waste,” the council unanimously voted Tuesday to ban the sale and distribution of polystyrene products, commercially known as Styrofoam, at retail establishments and large food and beverage businesses.

“Today, Los Angeles is once again taking the lead in defense of our environment,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell told the Los Angeles Times. “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.”

The Styrofoam ban will begin April 23rd and is directed towards retail establishments, and well as large food/beverage businesses, like coffee shops, bars, or restaurants.

A “large” business is defined as one with at least 26 employees. And if a business is part of a chain, “the employee count shall include all employees of that chain.”

Products that wriggled their way out of the ban include mostly essential and medical items—and some fun ones, such as surfboards and coolers confined “in a more durable material,” according to the ordinance—craft supplies, packaging or containers for drugs, medical devices, safety items like life preservers, helmets, and some construction and building materials.

Health and residential care facilities for the elderly will also be exempt.

There’s no more room for plastic in the city, said Council President Paul Krekorian, adding that the idea that plastic gets recycled was a myth.

“Our world is drowning in plastic, to the point where, in any given week, each of us ingests enough plastic from our food and water to make a credit card,” he said. “The petrochemical industry is lying to the people of the United States by trying to convince them that somehow it’s OK to use these products because they’re recyclable. They’re not. Almost no plastic ever gets recycled, and Styrofoam definitely does not.”

As far as plastics go, Styrofoam is especially dangerous: there are carcinogens in the foam, and those can seep into hot drinks and food. What’s more, making Styrofoam is bad for workers due to their exposure to those carcinogens and other toxins during the process.

Continuing with its zero-waste them on Tuesday, the council also approved a rule encourage carrying reusable bags, and controlling the use of single-use paper and plastic bags at clothing stores, farmers’ markets, open-air markets, and food/beverage businesses.

Tracy Quinn, president and chief executive of Heal the Bay, told the Times that solutions like the ban on Styrofoam were important because they stopped the flow of plastic at the source.

“It is clear that cleanups will never solve the issue of plastic pollution,” she said. “To truly protect public health, we need aggressive and responsible solutions like today’s unanimous vote.”

The last major environmental ordinance that effects citizens on a day-to-day basis was the plastic straw ban, which began in 2019. Starting in October of that year, if you wanted a plastic straw, plastic utensil, or condiment packet, you had to ask for it. And who wanted to be the one asking for it?

San Francisco also passed a plastic straw ban in 2019, but took it a step further, also forbidding companies from providing other single-used products—lids, condiment packages, utensils and napkins—unless specifically asked for one. The ultra-prog city also outlawed Styrofoam way back in 2017.

“Time and time again, we have seen the marketplace respond to San Francisco policy,” Debbie Raphael, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, told the San Francisco Guardian. “When local government sends signals to the market, the market will adjust and adapt.


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