Single-Use Plastics Policy

UCLA will be plastic-free by 2023

The UC campuses are phasing out single-use plastics as part of a bold commitment to achieve zero waste to landfill, furthering their long-established sustainability goals. The new addition to the UC Policy on Sustainable Practices will transition all UCs away from plastic bags in retail and dining locations and eliminate single-use plastic foodservice items and beverage bottles. UCLA has taken this a step further by passing their own policy with accelerated goals to eliminate single-use plastics from campus months or even years in advance. This adds on to the pre-existing UC Packaging Foam (Styrofoam) Ban which prohibits the use of packaging foam in any capacity on campus.

The purpose of this policy is to facilitate the transition from single-use plastics to reusable or locally compostable alternatives. Reusables constitute any materials that are durable and intended for multiple uses, such as metal or bamboo. Locally compostable means products that are accepted by the University’s waste hauler, Athens Services, which only includes 100% fiber-based products, but does not include bioplastics. In regards to water and beverage bottles, the goal is to eliminate plastic options altogether by switching to aluminum, glass, or paper.

See plastic that doesn’t belong? Let us know!


UCLA Sustainability, in collaboration with other UC campuses, is continually working on resources to help our community transition away from single-use plastics. The resources below are meant to provide guidance for compliance.

Implementation Guide

The Single-Use Plastics Policy Implementation Guide provides an explanation of all the components of the Policy and resources to help the campus community comply.

The guide is organized in sections for all relevant parties including institutional buyers, foodservice operations, departmental buyers, and student organizations. If you have additional questions, please contact

Presentation & Flyer

The Single-Use Plastics Policy Presentation summarizes the negative impacts of plastics, the Policy language, and necessary definitions and resources for compliance. With engaging videos and imagery, this presentation is a quick resource for anyone hoping to better understand the Single-Use Plastics Policy or educate others.

You can utilize our Plastics Policy One Pager to inform others with quick links to important resources, as well as our Flyer for Students and Student Orgs.

Green Events Guide

The Green Events Guide specifically address how to organize events with sustainability and the Policy in mind. You can have your event Green Event Certified to demonstrate your commitment to sustainability.

Water Dispensing Guide

Use this Water Conversion Flowchart to determine the best way to switch to sustainable water dispensing. If you would like to switch, review the Water Dispensing Options Chart to access the benefits and costs of each sustainable option. For questions, check out the FAQs.

To see all the available water refill stations on campus, check out this Map of Water Refill Stations.

Packaging Foam Toolkit

Packaging foam and expanded polystyrene (EPS), commonly referred to as Styrofoam, has been banned on campus since spring 2020 across the entire UC system. To assist Universities with compliance, the UC Office of the President created the Packaging Foam Ban Implementation Toolkit which provides tools and resources on how to eliminate this harmful form of plastic.

Plastic-free is a global solution

Single-use plastics are a global problem that requires systemic changes to mitigate the negative effects to oceans, wildlife, and human health. Despite our best efforts to recycle, only a small fraction of all plastics end up being recycled and each time their quality depreciates until it can no longer be used at all. Billions of tons of plastic end up in the oceans polluting waterways with chemicals, killing wildlife, and eventually ending up in our food, water, and air. The best solution is to eliminate single-use plastics and prevent them from entering our planet in the first place.


Why does the Single-Use Plastics Policy exist and what does it aim to do?

The Policy exists to guide the University locations through a significant shift away from a culture of disposables and towards that of reusables and waste reduction. In recognition of the severe environmental impacts that single-use plastic products have globally, we are seeking to move away from using these products entirely.

Why does this Policy target plastics versus other single-use materials?

Single-use materials, including aluminum and glass, have their own unique environmental impact trade-offs (or pros and cons) during their production, use, and disposal phases. For example, the mining of bauxite to create aluminum causes land degradation and habitat loss and the transportation of glass requires a lot of energy resulting in climate impacts. However, there are significant physical and chemical threats at end-of-life stages for plastics due to the low recycling rate and the petrochemical composition of this material, whereas aluminum and glass are easier to recycle and not made from fossil fuels. 

Plastics contribute greatly to littering in marine and terrestrial environments, and as plastics degrade, microscopic plastics end up in the environment and eventually in food and water to be ingested. Microscopic plastics also accumulate chemicals known to have human health impacts. For these reasons, it is more pressing to reduce reliance on plastics as opposed to other single-use alternatives. That being said, reusable items should be prioritized over single-use items of any material when feasible. For more information about life cycle impacts of single-use plastic bottles and alternatives, see the UNEP Report.

Are PLA/bioplastics a good compostable alternative to single-use plastics?

In general, reusability is prioritized over compostability, so any opportunity to implement a reusable product program is preferable to purchasing PLA/bioplastics, as the compostability of these materials is largely dependent on the process of each composting facility. UCLA’s waste hauler, Athens Services, no longer accepts PLA/bioplastics as a locally compostable material. As a reference, you can review this letter from Athens Services discussing why bioplastics are often not a good option for composters.

What is the waste hierarchy and how is it related to this Policy?

The waste hierarchy is a set of priorities that guides the efficient use of resources. Sometimes referred to as the “Zero Waste hierarchy of highest and best use”, and often depicted by the chart seen below, the waste hierarchy underpins the Single-Use Plastics Policy. Based on the hierarchy, the first step to achieving the goals of this Policy is reducing any unnecessary purchases and only providing what is needed. The next best thing is purchasing reusables that can be shipped in bulk and utilized many times. If single-use products are necessary, locally compostable or locally recyclable (for bottled beverages only) non-plastic items are the only acceptable options. The goal is to avoid plastics that are neither reusable nor infinitely recyclable and eventually end up as unacceptable waste that has no beneficial use.

What are the benefits of switching to reusables?

Reusables are the best option because they use the least amount of resources and cause the least damage to the environment and our health. You can think about your daily coffee: the manufacture and transport of a reusable coffee mug which allows a person to utilize the cup many times, while using a small amount of water to rinse in between uses, is a fairly efficient use of resources. In comparison, the manufacture and transport of a plastic cup, which allows a person to use it only once, includes throwing the cup in a landfill bin and paying a staff person to collect the trash, put it in a truck, transport it to the landfill, pay a tipping fee, and bury it in the ground/landfill where it pollutes the water, air, and soil. Not only do single-use plastics spend more resources, but those resources are spent daily compared to only once every few years with a reusable cup. In the long term, reusables cost less and prevent excessive environmental and health degradation.

Is it safe to use reusables during the COVID-19 pandemic?

As a standard practice, UC foodservice operations closely adhere to procedures, policies, and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH).  Heat-sanitizing commercial dish machines that meet stringent testing and sanitation standards from NSF International as well as the California Retail Code (CalCode) are used to wash and sanitize all reusable containers. Where the heat sanitizing equipment is not available, standard manual wash, rinse, and chemical sanitizing procedures in a three-compartment sink are followed.

In addition to the sanitation procedures followed by UC foodservice departments, public health experts have offered recent guidance regarding the safety of reusable customer items. As of December 2020, the CDC says that “the risk of getting sick with COVID-19 from eating or handling food… and food packages is considered very low” and “currently, no cases of COVID-19 have been identified where infection was thought to have occurred by touching food, food packaging, or shopping bags.”

What measures are needed to protect foodservice employees who handle soiled reusables?

To protect foodservice employees from potential contamination while handling soiled reusable to-go containers, china, glassware and cutlery, the CDPH COVID-19 Industry Guidance for Restaurants recommends that dishwashers use personal equipment to protect the eyes, nose, and mouth from contaminant splash. The following PPE is required:

-Safety glasses, eye goggles or face shield 
-Face covering
-Impermeable apron
-Disposable gloves

Reusable protective equipment such as eye goggles, face shields, and heavy-duty aprons must be disinfected between uses.

What should I do if there are no alternatives to single-use plastic for a commodity?

If there are no available alternatives, single-use plastics may be used upon review through an exemption process. Please review our exemption process in the Single-Use Plastics Implementation Guide.

What should I do if I have an existing stock of single-use plastics?

If you have an existing stock of single-use plastics, you should aim to find a use for these single-use plastics rather than disposing of them. Depending on the volume, this may include using them in your operations until they are depleted. They could also be donated to another entity that can benefit from these products (e.g. campus food closet). The goal is to not purchase any additional single-use plastics.

How does the Policy apply to purchases made by faculty, staff, or student groups?

University affiliated individuals and groups are responsible for complying with this Policy as it applies to their activities on University property such as events and conferences. If you are purchasing products using funds through the University (directly or through reimbursement), it is required to select products that comply with the Policy.

Consult with your campus dining or foodservice teams to utilize group purchasing from suppliers. Compostable products are likely being purchased by foodservice departments and these departments can source products for lower costs.

Does the Policy apply to those who purchase items off site and dispose of them on site?

While it is encouraged to consider using reusables and locally compostable products over single-use plastics, the Policy has a limited scope of control. This Policy does not intend to govern individuals or visitor actions as much as it seeks to help locations create more sustainable systems that allow individuals to make better choices.

It is important, however, to make a distinction between a visitor and an entity doing business with the University or using a space on campus including catering, food trucks, pop-up coffee carts, or other miscellaneous food providers. Please refer to UCLA’s third party vendor language (Section IV.D) for an example of how a location is applying the policy to entities engaged in business activities.

How does this Policy apply to pre-packaged foods?

When selecting foods that are prepared and packaged by a third party vendor off premises for resale in vending machines or stores on University property (e.g. packaged sandwiches or salads resold in campus stores, individually packaged pastries, etc.), when possible select products that have locally compostable or locally recyclable packaging options. Beverages that come in aluminum, glass, or locally compostable paper packaging should be prioritized.

Is 100% recycled plastic acceptable under this Policy?

100% recycled plastic or plastics with any amount of recycled content are still single-use plastics and will not be accepted as outlined in the Single-Use Plastics Policy. Plastic degrades in quality as it is recycled until it cannot be used anymore and becomes landfill waste. Though recycled plastic aims to extend the lifetime of plastics and meet the minimum recycled content requirements in State Assembly Bill AB793, it should not be the end solution, but rather a bridge to use existing resources for as long as possible. This Policy aims to reduce the presence and eliminate single-use plastics through the use of materials that can be infinitely recycled without diminishing quality.

Can single-use plastics be used in extenuating circumstances?

In the event of a natural disaster, global pandemic, or any significant crisis, single-use plastics may be used, if necessary, to ensure the health and safety of the community. In these circumstances, guidance will be provided as to when single-use plastics will be allowed. Refer to your location’s local implementation procedures and exemptions.

What areas of waste and environmental degradation does this Policy directly address?

This policy aims to eliminate single-use plastic in its various forms within every product sector. Though other forms of waste are considered when suggesting alternative products and programming (i.e. water waste, food waste, and energy consumption), our main goal is to eliminate single-use plastics, as they make up a disproportionately large portion of university-wide waste. The UC Policy on Sustainable Practices establishes goals for sustainability in eleven areas. Please refer to this policy for more information on how to address non-plastic waste sources at UC.

How does this Policy relate to health and wellness?

As this Policy addresses single-use plastics in foodservice and most specifically bottled beverages, there is overlap with health and wellness. This Policy covers all single-use bottled beverages, rather than only targeting bottled water, so as not to incentivize a switch to less healthy alternatives. It also asks locations to consider installing additional hydration stations to promote reusable bottles and healthy beverages. The newly established Health and Well-being section of the UC Policy on Sustainable Practices also addresses the intersection between health and sustainability with language about healthy vending and chemicals of concern (pending final approval). The Health and Wellbeing working group will begin their work by developing criteria for healthy vending options and addressing chemicals of concern within sustainable procurement guidelines.

What will Policy compliance look like?

UC locations will be asked to report their progress in implementing the single use plastics policy to the systemwide Zero Waste Working Group, which is in turn, charged with reporting to the Sustainability Steering Committee on progress and issues surrounding the implementation of the Sustainable Practices Policy. CalRecycle, California’s governing agency on recycling and waste management programs, will also be enforcing SB1335 – Sustainable Packaging for the State of California Act of 2018. Under SB1335, food service facilities located in a state-owned facility, operating on or acting as a concessionaire on state property, or under contract to provide food service to a state agency are required to use food service packaging that are reusable, recyclable, or compostable.  Examples of food service facilities include but are not limited to food trucks at UC campuses, catering companies that serve at University events, and food service contractors in dining halls or cafeterias. 

What are the cost considerations for Policy implementation?

Locations are encouraged to look holistically at the cost of implementing this policy. Although there could be costs associated with implementing this Policy, there can also be cost savings, including not purchasing items that are given away for free (bags & straws), switching to reusables, and reducing waste, all of which minimize waste hauling fees. These cost considerations help internalize full lifecycle costs of the items used. Additionally, this Policy aligns with State and local best practices to help drive market change that will help decrease the cost of alternatives over time.