Los Angeles County Seal.

Board of Supervisors moves to study single-use plastic effects

Los Angeles County supervisors authorized a study Tuesday that could lead to a ban on single-use plastics, including cups, straws and utensils, in the county’s unincorporated areas.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Janice Hahn to have UCLA’s Luskin Center conduct a study on single-use plastic food service ware waste in Los Angeles County over a span of three months. Once the study is complete, the board will use its findings to make an informed vote on whether to enact a ban or reduction in the use of certain plastics.

There have been disruptions in recycling markets due to China’s “National Sword” policy, China’s latest strict regulation on imports such as recyclable material, said Edel Vizcarra, planning and public works deputy for Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who represents the county’s 5th District, which includes the Santa Clarita Valley. 

As a result, it’s becoming more expensive to dispose of recyclable waste. Now, California is paying to have recyclables processed. Prior to this policy, recyclables generated revenue. In Santa Clarita, the policy contributed directly to the shutdown of rePlanet, a local recycling center. 

“Los Angeles was generating $13 million a year from their recycling programs, but now they are paying $6 million to get rid of it,” said Vizcarra. 

Along with the “National Sword” policy, Los Angeles County has experienced complications in regard to the region’s environmental sustainability, self-reliance and economic vitality, according to the motion presented by Kuehl and Hahn. In efforts to comply with the Federal Clean Water Act, and protect residents’ quality of life, the county has spent millions retrofitting catch basins, collecting trash, sweeping streets and conducting anti-litter public outreach, the motion said. 

In addition, the media has heavily reported the harmful effects of plastic waste on the environment and wildlife. Kuehl and Hahn’s motion cites a study that contends that, by 2050, there would be more plastic in the ocean than fish.

The study conducted by the Luskin Center will examine how prevalent single-use plastic is in the county’s waste stream. It will also look into different biodegradable alternatives as possible substitutions if a reduction or ban of single-use plastic is issued. 

A ban or reduction will affect fast-food spots in the unincorporated areas in the SCV, as they, too, will have to adopt alternatives to single-use plastic. Fast-food single-use plastic ware includes cups, bowls, plates, utensils and straws, officials say. 

Anissa Engel, manager at Pick Up Stix in Stevenson Ranch, described how a possible ban of these single-use plastic items would affect her establishment. 

“We constantly have people taking their food to go. That includes plastic straws and plastic drink caps,” said Engel. “I think a lot of people will be upset if they weren’t able to take these items with them.” 

This decision on whether a ban will take place is expected to be made once the findings from the study are released. The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote in approximately five months, according to the motion. 

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