The Los Angeles county-wide ban on single-use plastics in restaurants, such as in to-go containers, cups, dishes and cutlery, began on Monday following years of political wrangling and opposition to the ban.
Since the late 2010s, LA County has ramped up the curtailing of single use plastics over environmental concerns. Major bans of polystyrene and Styrofoam containers at food restaurants were among the first big bans in the county, with the total plastic Styrofoam ban in 2018 negatively affecting virtually every restaurant. Soon plastic straws and plastic water bottles saw major bans. The major rise of to-go restaurant orders due to COVID-19 and restaurant in-person shutdowns in 2020 greatly slowed down the number of bans due to the need for restaurants to operate in that capacity, especially with items such as carry-out containers and plastic spoons, knives and forks. However, once restrictions were lifted and in-person service continued, bans slowly started again.
This all led to a new policy being passed by the LA County Board of Supervisors last year banning all single use plastics from restaurants. Instead of banning item by item based on different types of plastics, the total ban covers virtually everything. The Board specifically cited the fact that 85% of single-use plastic items in the state never get recycled, with the plastics hard to break down, and microplastics having a growing negative effect on the environment. After a year of giving restaurants time to prepare, as well as time to comply with new state plastic limiting laws for things such as ketchup packets, the ban finally went into full effect on Monday.
Under the new law, only street vendors and businesses that have documented financial hardships can be exempt from the ban. In addition, only restaurants and other food facilities are currently under the ban. Food trucks have another six months until the ban goes into effect for them, with farmers markets and other temporary food providers being given until May 2024 to comply.
Most LA County restaurants have already complied for years
However, the new ban fails to have any teeth behind it. LA County won’t go out and actively investigate places breaking the new law unless there is a complaint made. And even then, fines would be miniscule and would be the last option given by the County, with fines only going up to $100 per day with a cap of $1,000 per year.
Many restaurant owners told the Globe on Monday that while the new law is laughable, most have already been fully compliant either due to other laws that actually give out fines consistently or through customer demand.
“Laws like this won’t scare us into making bigger changes,” explained LA restaurant owner Oscar Ruiz to the Globe on Monday. “You know what does cause us to change? Customers coming in and asking why we’re still using a certain thing, or people cancelling to-go orders because we aren’t being environmentally friendly. We lose a lot of money if we don’t change with the times.”
Glendale restaurant manager Armen added that “We already have so many different bans in place on plastics. I mean, most places already went to a more biodegradable type of container instead. Or if we do use plastics, it’s the type that you can reuse. Like soup containers. We use the plastic types that can be used over again as containers now. Straws, paper-based. Knives and forks? Biodegradable. There were already so many laws out there that many were already in compliance anyway. The law essentially doesn’t mean all that much to us. We were already kind of doing it.”
Ruiz added that “And no one is going to make a complaint, not really. You know why? Because we have had so many people complain that we already changed everything. LA County was way behind the curve on this one, even with the year in advance notice. If customers don’t like what you’re doing, you lose them. So you make the necessary changes to survive. That’s the restaurant business. And this County law isn’t going to change much because we already changed.”
The County-wide law went into effect on Monday and covers both incorporated and unincorporated parts of the County.
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