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21 December 20224 minute read

City of Los Angeles joins a growing number of jurisdictions in restricting expanded polystyrene and single-use plastics

The Los Angeles City Council has unanimously passed ordinances restricting the use of plastic bags and expanded polystyrene (commonly referred to by the trade name Styrofoam™) products and has formally requested that City departments comply with an ordinance requiring “zero waste” measures at City facilities and events.

These actions, taken on December 6 by the largest city in California, will have significant impacts and are consistent with developments in a growing number of counties and municipalities across the country.

Expanded polystyrene to be banned in phases

Using a phased approach, Los Angeles’ new ordinance will prohibit sellers of prepared food or beverages and other retail establishments from distributing, offering, providing, renting, or selling to any person (1) expanded polystyrene products; (2) food or beverages packaged in expanded polystyrene; or (3) shipping or packing material that contains expanded polystyrene. Citing concerns that expanded polystyrene is not biodegradable, is difficult to recycle, breaks down into “micro-pieces” in the environment, and has been classified as a possible human carcinogen, the ordinance will apply to companies employing more than 26 people effective April 23, 2023, and all other food or beverage facilities and retail establishments beginning April 23, 2024.

The law exempts some products from the prohibition, including expanded polystyrene products that are wholly encased in a more durable material, craft supplies, packaging used for drugs, medical devices or biological materials, and several other product categories. The law also exempts health facilities, elder care facilities, and disaster or local emergency relief activities (provided a suspending resolution is passed).

The new law will be enforced by the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation, which can issue rules or procedures and take actions to implement and enforce the ordinance. The law itself does not specify any penalties for its violation.

Plastic bag ban extended to include additional businesses

Los Angeles simultaneously passed an ordinance expanding the City’s existing prohibition on offering or providing any customer with plastic single-use carryout bags. When originally passed in 2013, the ban applied only to retail stores selling groceries or containing a pharmacy, but the updated ordinance encompasses additional retailers such as apparel stores, farmers’ markets, sellers of prepared food and beverages, hardware stores, and open-air markets.

In addition to completely banning the provision of single-use plastic carryout bags, the ordinance requires retailers to provide reusable bags to customers (a fee may be charged). Though the ordinance permits recyclable carryout bags, it requires retailers to charge ten cents for each such bag, which money may only be used for costs of complying with the ordinance, providing recyclable paper carryout bags, and educational campaigns encouraging use of reusable bags.

Like Los Angeles’ expanded polystyrene ban, the plastic bag ban will be enforced by the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation, which can issue rules and take actions in furtherance of the law. Apparel stores, food or beverage facilities, and hardware stores with more than 26 employees must submit quarterly reports to the Department, listing the number of each category of bags provided that quarter, the total funds collected therefrom, and a summary of efforts to encourage the use of reusable bags.

Zero waste City policies for City facilities and events

Rounding out the Los Angeles City Council’s suite of environment-focused actions on December 6 was a request that the City’s departments implement an ordinance passed earlier this year, which requires zero waste at City facilities and events held on City property. The ordinance mandates that City contracts include provisions requiring contractors to comply with several zero-waste policies, including prohibitions on disposable foodware accessories, expanded polystyrene products, and disposable plastic carry-out bags.

Also on December 6, the City directed the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Sanitation to create an outreach program and additional instruction to City departments, and to report back on the departments’ progress in implementing the ordinance.

Part of a trend

While its size and influence as a major US city make Los Angeles’ recent actions noteworthy, it is not the first local government to restrict the use of expanded polystyrene or single-use plastic bags. Jurisdictions across the country have taken similar actions. For example, San Diego, California’s second largest city, recently moved forward with a ban on certain expanded polystyrene products, after a lawsuit stalled the ban originally passed in 2019.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, some states (for example, Florida and Arizona) have enacted laws prohibiting counties and municipalities from regulating auxiliary containers including single-use plastic bags and polystyrene packaging. This has resulted in a patchwork of often-conflicting requirements for regulated companies to keep track of – and failure to comply will not go unnoticed given the increased focus on these issues. DLA Piper’s Plastics team monitors these developments and can help navigate this complex legal landscape.

To learn more, contact any of the authors.