The ordinance prohibits the sale and distribution of expanded polystyrene products -- commonly referred to as Styrofoam -- for businesses with more than 26 employees beginning in April 2023, and for smaller businesses in April 2024.
"Today, the second largest city in the nation will send a clear message that expanded polystyrene has no place in our city's future," Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said at a briefing before Tuesday's meeting.
Los Angeles joins more than 150 other cities that have similar ordinances in place, and advocates believe it can set an example for more cities to follow suit.
"L.A. can lead the pack," said Craig Cadwallader, policy coordinator with Surfrider South Bay. "What happens in L.A. doesn't stay in L.A. It's seen worldwide. So this is a really big deal, and makes a big difference not just here in Los Angeles, but beyond -- perhaps in other countries as well."
Styrofoam products are not biodegradable or economically recyclable, and their main component, styrene, has been classified as a possible human carcinogen, according to the ordinance. Chemicals can also leach into food stored in Styrofoam containers, and such products could end up in open spaces, rivers and oceans, the ordinance said.
"Plastic has its place, but using a material that was designed to last forever in something that is used only once -- often for just moments -- does not make any sense," said Emily Parker, a coastal and marine scientist at Heal the Bay.
Council President Paul Krekorian accused the petrochemical industry of "lying to the people of the United States by trying to convince them that somehow it's OK to use these products because they're recyclable."
"It's not," Krekorian said. "Stop using these products. That's the solution. Stop using them in the first place."
Councilman Paul Koretz, pointing to a Styrofoam cup at the podium with a chasing symbol on the back, said that the symbol implies the cup is recyclable.
"But it's not," Koretz said. "It will never happen. This cup will never be recycled. It is chasing into a landfill. It's being chased into an ocean. It's being chased into rivers. But this will never be chased into a recycling plant."
The ordinance allows for certain exceptions, including the sale of surfboards or coolers that are made "wholly encapsulated" or encased in durable material, craft supplies, packaging for drugs, medical devices or biological materials, safety devices such as car seats and life jackets and products pre-packaged outside the city.
Health facilities and residential care facilities are also exempt from the ordinance.
Victor Reyes, legislative affairs manager with the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, told the council that the city should instead defer to a state bill passed earlier this year that aims for a major reduction of plastics use -- though Senate Bill 54 does not ban polystyrene outright.
"This new law should be given time to work before local government adopts separate packaging requirements," Reyes said. "A statewide uniform set of rules can help drive system efficiency and ensure materials are available that are best suited and cost-effective for specific uses and customers."
Reyes said the organization supports policies that "expand recycling programs, reduce waste and create new markets for recovered materials. We believe that these objectives are better achieved under the system established by SB 54."
Officials would be authorized to investigate possible violations, though the ordinance does not note fines as a penalty. The council voted to prepare an outreach program to educate customers and businesses about the ordinance.
The council also voted for an ordinance requiring shops to offer or provide reusable bags to customers, in an effort to promote the use of reusable bags.
"The future is not plastics anymore," O'Farrell said. "Not in Los Angeles, and hopefully not anywhere else in the United States, much less the rest of the world. We've lived with plastic waste now for 60 years, and it's time to stop the outflow of this terrible pollution that is fouling our waterways, fouling the Pacific Ocean, choking marine life and degrading our environment everywhere we look."