Los Angeles has taken a progressive step, joining other local cities such as Santa Monica and Malibu, in doing their part to reduce the quantity of single-use food service containers polluting the environment.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban single-use plastic packaging, including expanded polystyrene (EPS), of which one brand is Styrofoam, at all city events and facilities.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to sign the legislation, and by July 1st, 2009, all city facilities and events are slated to be polystyrene-free.

“I’m very, very excited about it,” said Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl. “We’ve got a lot to do, but this is a major new day in the City of L.A.”

The council also unanimously adopted a citywide policy that will ban the use of single-use plastic shopping bags at all grocery and retail stores by 2010, but only if the state has not imposed a minimum 25-cents-per-bag fee on their use by then.

Last year, San Francisco became the first city in the United States to ban single-use plastic shopping bags.

More locally, Malibu and Manhattan Beach have enacted aggressive bans on single-use plastic bags.

Across the globe, places like China have also already banned plastic bags, encouraging shoppers to use cloth sacks, baskets and other alternatives to reduce environmental pollution.

And while Los Angeles has not yet banned plastic bags, by July 1st, 2009, no longer will city facilities and city events be able to use single-use plastic food containers. Only those that are recyclable and biodegradable will be allowed.

“We think it’s a great step in the right direction and it will have huge positive impacts on [Santa Monica Bay] and all the creeks in Los Angeles County,” said Heal the Bay’s water quality director Kirsten James.

Heal the Bay, a nonprofit Santa Monica-based environmental organization, was hoping that the city would take the ban even further and make it citywide, “but we do see this as a good first step,” said James.

Rosendahl agrees.

“I think what we did was set a huge example for a huge city — the second largest city in America,” he said. “We’re leading by example. What happens in California ripples across the nation. We catch a cold and the rest of the world sneezes over it.”

The ordinance bans single-use plastic food packaging — like plates, bowls, cups, trays, spoons, forks and knives — from all of Los Angeles city events and facilities, but not from businesses and restaurants in the city, starting July 1st next year.

The bans — which were recommended by the city’s Bureau of Sanitation — are expected to considerably reduce the amount of single-use plastic packaging in the city, including at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the fifth busiest airport in the world.

Last year, the airport served almost 62 million passengers.

With a ban on single-use packaging at city facilities such as LAX, “there will be a significant decrease in the amount of Styrofoam because obviously a lot of people are going through LAX every day,” said James.

The single-use plastic packaging ban was initiated by the city with the hope of reducing the quantity of plastic trash found in the area waterways.

Studies have documented the prevalence of expanded polystyrene debris in the environment and its significant negative environmental impact on beaches and the marine environment, said Dean Kubani, the environmental programs manager for the City of Santa Monica.

“Expanded polystyrene and nonrecyclable plastics make up the majority of the waste that ends up on the beach and the marine environment,” Kubani said.

Marine animals can get entangled in plastic debris in the ocean and mistake the debris for natural food, causing death.

“It makes me nauseous,” says Rosendahl of the reality that plastic harms marine life. “It just makes me sick.”

Over 267 wildlife species are estimated to be impacted by plastic litter.

Plastic bags and expanded polystyrene also clog landfills. A large part of trash in area waterways is plastic film and packaging, said HDR Engineering in a report prepared for the city.

Plastic bags don’t decompose and expanded polystyrene can take many hundreds of years to break down.

Californians spend over $25 million each year to collect and dispose of the 19 billion single-use plastic bags distributed annually, according to Heal the Bay.

Consumers in Los Angeles use 2.3 billion single-use plastic bags every year, and only about five percent of those are recycled.

However, that should all change by 2010, because if the state does not impose at least a 25-cents-per-bag fee on single-use plastic bags by then, the ban will go into effect on all plastic carryout bags.

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