SAN MARCOS — The San Marcos City Council introduced an ordinance banning single-use plastic utensils and containers and Styrofoam products during its Oct. 12 meeting, becoming the latest in a string of San Diego County cities to implement such a ban.
The council vote unanimously in favor of the ordinance, which will be officially adopted at an upcoming council meeting and phased in over two years.
According to the staff report, the ordinance will “establish standards and procedures for the protection of the City’s environment, its economy, and the health of its residents and visitors by promoting environmentally sustainable practices throughout the City by controlling the use and distribution and disposal of certain non-recyclable single-use plastic products by City departments, City contractors, food servicers, and grocery stores within the City of San Marcos.”
The first phase, beginning in July 2022, will ban the sale, distribution and use of plastic, disposable utensils such as straws, forks, spoons, knives, stir sticks or anything used to eat food.
Food providers will be allowed to provide disposable utensils that are non-plastic and either recyclable or compostable. These can be provided upon request or at self-serve stations.
Sean Harris, the city’s management analyst, said the July date was picked because research found that businesses would need about six months to exhaust their supplies of products that will be banned and to find alternative products either from a new supplier or their current one.
The second phase, starting July 2023, will ban the sale, distribution and use of plastic, disposable food service ware such as plates, cups, bowls, wrappers or anything used to carry or hold food.
The third and final phase will begin January 2024 and will prohibit materials made with expanded polystyrene, often referred to as EPS or Styrofoam.
Harris added that the third phase will most likely cause the highest strain on businesses financially, as the Styrofoam products currently on the market are very cheap.
Harris said that the city will provide technical assistance to businesses including an alternative products list that will be widely available to local businesses.
Several speakers, including representatives of the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club, gave public comments at the meeting in favor of the ordinance. There were no public comments against the ordinance.
Rick Rungaitis, CEO and president of the San Marcos Chamber of Commerce, said that the chamber would not be taking a position on the issue, but said the chamber would take on an educational role to help businesses in their transition.
Alan Geraci from the Sierra Club voiced the group’s support for the ordinance and urged the council to pass it.
“These single-use plastics come with a very steep environmental price. One that we’ll be paying for millennia. Our plastic addiction is having a devastating impact in our oceans, wildlife and our health,” Geraci said. “Thank you for this ordinance. It’s a smart ordinance. It’s a needed ordinance. And it’s time.”
Councilman Randy Walton, who has been a proponent of the ordinance for almost two years, said he received around 100 emails all in support of the ordinance.
“Single-use plastic is a scourge to this planet,” Walton said. “I want to thank the businesses and the stores that are going to be most impacted by this ordinance… I want to say to them thank you in advance for your important role in keeping our community beautiful. I recognize that sometimes change can be challenging, but I can assure you that you are doing something valuable for your community.”
Enforcement of the ordinance would begin with a fine of up to $100 for the first violation, a fine up to $200 for a second violation and a fine up to $500 for each additional violation.
San Marcos Unified School District (SMUSD) is exempt under its official food service program; however, a few councilmembers, including Councilwoman Sharon Jenkins, expressed their desire to see SMUSD included in the ordinance.