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LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors preliminarily approved an ordinance Tuesday that would require all disposable food service ware provided with ready-to-eat food be either compostable or recyclable.

That includes containers, cups, dishes and utensils given out by restaurants and food facilities in the county’s unincorporated areas, home to about 1 million residents.

“In its scale, the County’s ordinance is among the country’s most ambitious efforts to reduce the use of plastics that poison marine ecosystems, damage human health, and contribute to global warming and environmental pollution,” a news release from the Board of Supervisors states.

Plastic waste is the largest contributor to the nearly 30 million tons of waste generated by L.A. County residents each year, and when broken down, can enter human food systems.

The ordinance seeks to phase out the sale or rental of expanded polystyrene products, or Styrofoam, such as single use food serviceware, coolers, packaging and peanuts, and pool toys.

The Board advanced the ordinance Tuesday but will have to give it a final approval, likely at their next meeting.

The new rules will be phased in gradually, giving food-serving businesses time to transition to alternative products. Enforcement will initially be complaint-based, but after the first year of implementation, the county will evaluate whether additional measures are needed to support businesses to reduce single-use waste.

If given the final approval, food facilities operating in a permanent location will have a year to reach compliance (May 1, 2023), food trucks will have 18 months to reach compliance (Nov. 1, 2023), and temporary food providers like farmers markets or community event organizers will have two years (May 1, 2024).

As a last resort in instances where that approach doesn’t work, violations may be subject to fines up to $100 per day per violation up to a maximum of $1000 per year.

“It’s time we put a fork in our use of plastics and took a bite out of the overwhelming amount of plastic County residents needlessly use,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, author of the motion calling for the ordinance.

Street vendors are exempt from the ordinance, and restaurants that demonstrate extreme financial hardship or the inability to serve food products safely in alternative packaging can apply for waivers.

The Board also approved a motion Tuesday that will provide assistance to small businesses for implementing the Single-Use Plastic Ordinance in the county’s unincorporated areas. The motion directs county offices and agencies to provide small businesses with education and outreach in multiple languages, information about suppliers of compliant food ware items, and to study the feasibility of providing financial support to small business during their transition.

The idea is to help put small businesses in unincorporated areas of L.A. County to be on a path toward compliance once the Single-Use Plastics Ordinance goes into full effect in May 2023.

“I believe this move away from single-use plastics is important, but it will only be successful if our businesses, especially our small businesses, have the support they need to implement it,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion. “Our small businesses are economic and cultural assets to our communities. I want to ensure that they have all the tools they need to make this transition away from plastic pollution. This should not be a burden for them.”

In November 2021, the city of L.A. put into effect an ordinance that no longer required restaurants to freely distribute plastic utensils and napkins, and to instead offer the disposable items only to customers who ask for them.

And in December last year, California expanded an existing law on straws, allowing take-out places to give consumers single-use condiment packages like ketchup and mustard and utensils like knives, forks and spoons only if asked. Local jurisdictions were given until June 1, 2022, to authorize an agency to enforce the new requirements.