A foam de­ci­sion

Su­per­vi­sors bar the non-biodegrad­able food boxes at sites run by L.A. County.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Rong-Gong Lin II ron.lin@latimes.com

Su­per­vi­sors vote to ban the con­tain­ers in county of­fices.

Tak­ing what could be the first step to­ward a far wider ban, Los An­ge­les County su­per­vi­sors voted this week to re­strict foam food con­tain­ers from most county of­fices and con­ces­sions.

The ban ap­proved Tues­day will cover restau­rants, cater­ing trucks and snack shops from the county’s mas­sive pub­lic hos­pi­tal sys­tem to beach con­ces­sions, golf cour­ses and even food de­liv­ery to se­nior cit­i­zens.

At the same time, su­per­vi­sors re­quested a study ex­am­in­ing a more ex­ten­sive ban. Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works of­fi­cials and the county coun­sel will re­port back in a year on the po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions of ban­ning foam food con­tain­ers in pri­vate restau­rants and other busi­nesses in L.A. County’s vast un­in­cor­po­rated ar­eas, which cover 2,600 square miles and more than a mil­lion res­i­dents.

The board’s ac­tions were praised by en­vi­ron­men­tal groups but crit­i­cized by man­u­fac­tur­ers who warned that the ban could cost lo­cal jobs.

“We are hop­ing to pro­vide lead­er­ship. This is a large county tak­ing a very bold step,” said Su­per­vi­sor Glo­ria Molina, who was among four su­per­vi­sors vot­ing yes. Su­per­vi­sor Michael D. Antonovich was ab­sent.

Of­fi­cially known as ex­panded poly­styrene, the ma­te­rial — es­sen­tially plas­tic puffed into a white, solid foam — can last hun­dreds of years, and dis­carded con­tain­ers are of­ten blown into storm drains.

“Plas­tics in the ocean is a huge prob­lem. It never breaks down. It just turns into smaller and smaller par­ti­cles,” said An­gela Howe, man­ag­ing at­tor­ney for the non­profit ocean ad­vo­cacy group Surfrider Foun­da­tion.

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

Foam food con­tain­ers are al­ready banned in Berkeley, Cal­abasas, La­guna Beach, Mal­ibu, New­port Beach, Oak­land, Palo Alto, San Fran­cisco, Santa Mon­ica and West Hollywood, ac­cord­ing to Surfrider.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers of foam food con­tain­ers op­posed the county’s ac­tion.

“At our fa­cil­ity, we make noth­ing but poly­styrene. And so it would af­fect our jobs,” Sheri­dan Ross, who works at Pac­tiv Corp. in La Mi­rada, told the su­per­vi­sors. Ross said his of­fice em­ploys about 90 peo­ple and could not eas­ily switch to other prod­ucts.

Su­per­vi­sor Mark Ri­d­leyThomas said he be­lieves county govern­ment will have some re­spon­si­bil­ity to as­sist man­u­fac­tur­ers in any tran­si­tion.

“We can come out with ef­fec­tive and pro­gres­sive so­lu­tions that are job-pro­duc­ing … and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly,” Ri­d­ley-Thomas said.

It will take some county agen­cies months or years to stop us­ing foam food con­tain­ers.

The changeover will in­crease costs for the Pro­ba­tion Depart­ment from $176,000 to $370,000 a year. At the Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices, which runs the county hos­pi­tal sys­tem, higher costs will be ab­sorbed by its contractors

The Sher­iff’s Depart­ment, which runs the county jail sys­tem, will prob­a­bly be ex­empted from the ban. Of­fi­cials there rely on the light­weight con­tain­ers be­cause they can­not be made into weapons.

In­stead, sher­iff’s of­fi­cials have pro­posed a foam food pack­ag­ing re­cy­cling sys­tem, which is fea­si­ble when rel­a­tively clean con­tain­ers can be shipped to a re­cy­cling com­pany in bulk.

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