Reducing single-use plastic foodware at L.A. County hospitality businesses
Reducing LA County’s solid waste and greenhouse gas footprints is as urgent as it is complicated. One method that would reduce both at the same time is through the replacement of single-use plastic (SUP) foodware at nearly 20,000 restaurants across L.A. County. An education campaign combined with assistance in choosing simple swaps for common products can spark meaningful change in the adoption of sustainable materials.
What is the primary issue area that your application will impact?
Climate and Environment
In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?
County of Los Angeles
In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?
Expand existing project, program, or initiative
What is your understanding of the issue that you are seeking to address?
Single-use plastic foodware is estimated to comprise about 40% of SUP waste in the solid waste stream, and is a major component of overall trash collection. The chemicals in single-use plastic contribute 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually – as much as commercial air travel. We will focus on the 19,500 restaurants in the county that are not part of a larger chain operation. To meet state mandated reductions in landfilled solid waste, our single-use consumption habits have to change. Restaurants have relied on plastic because of its weight and durability. That waste – used for an average of 15 minutes – spends 1,000 years breaking down into dangerous micro-plastics in a landfill or our environment. Recycling rates for paper, glass and metal are about 8X-10X higher than SUP because of their economic value. Helping users items identify sustainable swaps for their plastic will reduce our region's landfilled waste as well as the associated greenhouse gas emissions.
Describe the project, program, or initiative this grant will support to address the issue.
Working in concert with the Department of Public Works, which has been tasked with implementing the county’s new SUP restrictions, we propose an education and awareness program that mimics what we’re in the process of completing for the City of Palm Springs, which enacted a similar ordinance in January 2022. Our effort includes a multi-prong approach to reach our audience electronically and with on-site visits. We offer both self-guided resources to understand any applicable laws in their jurisdiction, pending regulation changes and useful tools to update their purchasing decisions. For restaurants that need more help, we provide one-on-one support to help with their sourcing of new materials. Oftentimes a restaurant will provide a copy of their latest supplier invoices and have us suggest smarter replacements based on the specs. Other times we provide leads on where their own buyers can look for alternatives. All of the contacts we make, whether for self-directed help or our direct assistance, are logged and followed up so there is total transparency. If budget allows, we like to make samples of commonly used materials available to the restaurants to try out at no charge. We find this greatly enhances adoption and is a fair offer to make to smaller restaurants. There is no question that hospitality businesses will eventually have to adopt more sustainable materials. Helping these small businesses make smart choices to transition to better products is good for everyone.
Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.
All this waste has a measurable impact on L.A. In our first year, we hope to dramatically raise awareness of the problems with SUP and spur a willingness to adapt. Over the long-term, we hope to effect dramatic change in usage habits. Assume each of the 19,500 restaurants serves a reasonable average of 250 meals per day. If each meal includes 3 plastic food containers, two plastic beverage bottles, and two sauce ramekins or plastic pouches, that's 6 oz. of plastic; the total amount used would be 94 lbs. per day! Across 19,500 restaurants, that translates to 500 tons of plastic per day or 182,500 tons per year. Most of that would be either non-recyclable or non-biodegradable. So-called ‘compostable’ plastic doesn’t naturally degrade and requires a special processing facility that L.A. County does not have. Switching materials to paper – which will recycle or naturally degrade, or glass and aluminum, which are recycled at a rate above 50%, dramatically reduces landfill-bound waste.
What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?
This proposal reflects a public activation campaign that has been deployed in a few instances already, so straddles the line between an evidence-based approach and an early stage program. We are near completion on a nine-month effort on behalf of the City of Palm Springs, whose city council enacted a stringent list of foodware restrictions in January 2022. We have collaborated with the city’s project leaders to contact all of the restaurant and hospitality operations within their jurisdiction at least three times to make them aware of the new restrictions, offer help in choosing replacements, and delivered a compliance and monitoring mechanism through our app at app.gojybe.com, where area diners can report on the types of materials they receive in their orders. City officials received a comprehensive list of all contacts and their results, and will now be able to utilize our user-generated reviews to monitor compliance, saving time in where they direct their inspectors.
Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?
Direct Impact: 19,500
Indirect Impact: 150,000