Single-Use Plastic Ban

On October 5, 2021, Governor Newsom signed Assemblymember Phil Ting’s bill, AB 1200 into law, and since then, cities across California are looking to align their local ordinances with the state law. AB 1200 would prohibit the distribution or sale of any food packaging that contains perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and require that food packaging, utensils, and other food ware to be substantially comprised of paper, paper-board, or otherwise derived from plant-based fiber by January 1, 2023. In addition to increasing the amount of non-degradable waste in landfills and the plastics that end up as litter, supporters of the bill state that PFAS are potentially harmful to humans and can be linked to certain cancers.

In Santa Clara County, the Cupertino City Council is considering a ban on single-use plastics at food-service businesses that could go into effect as soon as June 2023. Restaurants would need to provide customers alternative options to plastic straws and cutlery, such as those made with paper or cardboard. Other cities in the Bay Area and Santa Clara County have voted to ban single-use plastics as well, such as Palo Alto and Mountain View. The Mountain View City Council passed their ban on single-use plastics on November 9, 2021, and additionally will require food-service businesses to verify that they are complying with the new ordinance by 2023. According to the Mountain View Voice, polling suggested that there was large support from the public for the ban in Mountain View, but of those polled, only five managed or owned businesses within the food sector.

Cupertino would go beyond what other cities have passed and would require restaurants to provide reusable food ware for dining in as well. Due to the unique packaging of certain businesses, such as boba tea shops, city officials have considered providing exemptions while engaging with the business community to ensure that these bans are not overly burdensome on some food-service businesses.

Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors recently voted 4-1 to advance an ordinance that would require all food-service containers, cups, plates, and cutlery to be recyclable or compostable. If given final approval, this would take effect May 1, 2023 for all permanent food-service businesses, November 1, 2023 for food trucks, and May 1, 2024 for farmers’ markets. Advocates of this ordinance have stated that billions of pounds of plastic waste enter the marine environment each year and that as these plastics harm marine ecosystems, it inevitably will have a detrimental effect on humans as they will be found in the food, water, and air. The ordinance was met with opposition by the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, the largest business advocacy group in Southern California. They argued that while there was no evidence that the ordinance would lead to reducing waste, it would increase costs for those in the food-service business as the cost of 100 compostable forks would be able to buy 1,000 plastic forks.

As this begins to gain traction with more local governments in California, it is important for the food-service industry to voice their thoughts and opinions as they arise. While the goal of these ordinances is noble, time will tell how much of a burden they are when put into practice. Fortunately, cities who have passed such ordinances seem flexible and open to the idea of not creating too many hardships, and as such, this is an opportunity for businesses to work closer with government to craft something that is sustainable both for their business and for the environment.