An ordinance banning nonrecyclable disposable food service containers in the city was introduced in its “first reading” and unanimously approved by the Santa Monica City Council at its meeting Tuesday, December 5th.
The ordinance is expected to be adopted at its final reading at the next City Council meeting, Tuesday, January 9th, and take effect one year later.
The ordinance bans nonrecyclable disposable food containers, including clear and expanded polystyrene (EPS) from all public, private and nonprofit entities in Santa Monica. EPS is what many know as Styrofoam and is labeled with recycling number 6.
The ordinance prohibits the dispensing of prepared food to customers in disposable food service containers made from nonrecyclable plastic, including expanded and clear polystyrene, and require that all disposable food service containers be made from biodegradable materials, Santa Monica officials say.
Food service containers are defined as “single-use disposable products used in the restaurant and food service industry for serving or transporting prepared, ready-to-consume food or beverages.”
This includes plates, bowls, cups, trays and hinged or lidded containers, but not single-use disposable items such as straws, utensils or cup lids or single-use disposable packaging for unprepared foods, said Dean Kubani, environmental programs manager for the City of Santa Monica.
The ban was initiated in response to growing concerns about the environmental and economic impact of such containers on beach and marine environments.
Studies have documented the prevalence of expanded polystyrene debris in the environment and its significant negative environmental impact on beaches and the marine environment, said Kubani.
“Expanded polystyrene and nonrecyclable plastics make up the majority of the waste that ends up on the beach and the marine environment,” Kubani said.
Many marine animals can get entangled in plastic debris in the ocean and mistake the debris for natural food, causing death.
Twenty-four members of the public spoke at the meeting, most in support of the ordinance.
Some, including members of Heal the Bay and its executive director Mark Gold, believed the ordinance should be even stronger — that it “does not go far enough” — and that all nonrecyclable plastic categories — recycling numbers 3 through 7 — should also be banned.
Janabai Amsden, owner of the Euphoria Loves RAWVolution CafÈ in Santa Monica — a raw, organic vegan cafÈ that uses only biodegradable packaging — also spoke at the meeting.
Amsden says she has voluntarily used biodegradable packing from the cafÈ’s inception 11 months ago and never even considered using plastic. She says her business is booming.
“It’s about the city you are here to protect,” Amsden said to the council. “You can pass this ban now and be pioneers.”
Lesley Mintz Tamminen, legislative director of Heal the Bay, and Sarah Abramson, a staff scientist for Heal the Bay, encouraged the council to “be leaders” and adopt the ordinance.
Heal the Bay gathered research during its beach cleanups in Santa Monica and determined that “two-thirds of the trash found during our beach cleanups is polystyrene,” Abramson said. “It’s really unfortunate.”
Abramson also pointed out some dangerous facts about plastic.
“Sometimes additives are added to make it have certain properties, like flexibility, and many of these additives are toxic to human and marine life, like phthalates and bisphenol-A,” she said. “These types of additives have been shown to have cancer-causing effects.
“Some of these additives are also false estrogens. Because of their chemical composition, they mimic estrogen. Animals that are male have developed ovaries and abnormally small testes. Plastic can cause cancerous and feminization effects.”
Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in 1994 and a researcher of plastic’s impact on marine life and beaches, also spoke in support of the ordinance.
“This lack of reuse is creating an ocean of plastic,” he said.
Even Jim Lynch, the president and chief executive officer of the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the ordinance and said that the chamber was “looking forward to exploring alternative products [to plastic].”
But Mark Wallon, who spoke on behalf of the Polystyrene Packaging Council, and several others oppose the ban.
Wallon said that a ban would only change the composition of the litter and debris on the city’s beaches, not reduce it.
Some are concerned about finding alternatives to expanded polystyrene plastic foam, one of the least expensive food packaging products available.
The provisions of the ordinance would go into effect one year after the council adopts the ordinance to “allow [city] staff to work with affected businesses to identify alternatives and vendors that provide alternatives,” Kubani said.
Some alternatives include paper, aluminum, rigid plastic and bio-products manufactured from cornstarch, sugar cane and other products.
Allan Haskell, owner of CaterGreen! Zero Waste Solutions in Los Angeles, says his company creates 100 percent biodegradable/compostable and petroleum-free food containers, and he showed some alternative products at the meeting.
Haskell said that some of the products are “a little bit of a price increase” from plastic, but that as more people switch to these biodegradable products, the prices will go down.
The ordinance applies to all food providers, including but not limited to restaurants, delis, grocery stores, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and groups and individuals that serve food prepared in Santa Monica, Kubani said.
For first violations of the ordinance, a warning will be written and issued. For subsequent violations, a fine in increasing amounts between $100 and $500 will be issued, Kubani said.
The director of the environmental and public works management for the city will have primary responsibility for enforcement.
“I think the ordinance will have a positive environmental effect for Santa Monica’s beaches,” said Kubani.
The cost of implementing the ordinance will be quite small.
Buying alternatives to nonrecyclable plastic for the city would cost the city a “few hundred dollars,” said Kubani.
It would cost the city about $31,000 in office supplies and $15,000 for an analyst to assist the city with implementing the ordinance.
The creation of this ordinance comes after an investigation by city staff of the potential costs and benefits of banning nonrecyclable food packaging in Santa Monica, which was requested by City Council in March last year.
After investigation, city staff recommended that the council adopt an ordinance banning nonrecyclable plastics, including EPS, from all public, private and nonprofit entities in the City.
On June 13th, after hearing the findings of the investigation, the council asked city staff to prepare an ordinance.
Several cities have already adopted similar citywide bans, including Malibu and Oakland.
“We are all in this together and it’s our planet, so let’s do it,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown.