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Supervisors ban foam food containers at most L.A. County facilities

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.

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“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.

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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 Ridley-Thomas said he believes county government will have some responsibility to assist manufacturers in any transition.

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“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. The agency is in talks to ship the material to Dart Container Corp., which would grind up the material at a Corona plant to be used in products like picture frames and faux-wood moldings for houses, a company spokesman said.

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ron.lin@latimes.com


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