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Polystyrene containers: L.A. County enacts a partial ban

September 22, 2010 | 10:16 am

Foam trash gary friedman LAT It's one thing for Malibu and Newport Beach to ban those solid foam food cups and containers that pollute ocean and land.  But what if Los Angeles County did so too, in restaurants and retail areas across its vast unincorporated area, covering 2,600 square miles and more than a million people?

That is what the five members of L.A. County's Board of Supervisors are going to study.

The county took a first step Tuesday when it voted to restrict the use of the containers, which are made of expanded polystyrene, at most county buildings and concessions.   "This is a large county taking a very bold step,”  said Supervisor Gloria Molina of the public facilities ban, which was protested by local manufacturers.

Tuesday’s motion also ordered the Department of Public Works and the county counsel’s office to report to the board in a year on the feasibility of restricting foam food containers among private restaurants and other retail establishments in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

Foam food containers do not easily degrade in the environment, can last hundreds of years, and can be eaten by birds and sea mammals, causing their deaths, according to Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental group.

According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, 56,000 tons of foam food containers and packaging, equivalent to the volume of eight Empire State buildings, enter the California marketplace every year. Food containers are often easily blown into the storm drain system, according to the Department of Public Works.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that ingested ocean plastics kill 1 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals a year.

There are 88 cities within Los Angeles County, and some of them, including Santa Monica and West Hollywood, have enacted their own bans. The supervisors have jurisdiction only over the unincorporated areas of the county.

Other California cities that ban foam food containers include San Francisco, Alameda, Berkeley, Calabasas, Carmel, Emeryville, Fairfax, Hercules, Laguna Beach, Malibu, Marin, Monterey, Newport Beach, Oakland, Palo Alto,  Richmond, San Bruno and Santa Cruz, according to Surfrider Foundation, a San Clemente-based advocacy group.

Read Rong-Gong Lin II's story for more on how L.A. County's phase-out of foam food containers in public facilities would work.

-- Margot Roosevelt


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Photo: Polystyrene trash litters the Angeles National Forest Credit: Gary Friedman/ Los Angeles Times