The item was brought forward by Councilwoman Corinna Contreras and the council discussed how to best address riding city businesses of single-use plastic and Styrofoam.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the council decided a phase-in approach would be best to avoid further regulations from struggling businesses and to allow time to find suppliers and manufacturers of eco-friendly solutions.
“This is not only about plastic pollution crisis, but how it impacts restaurants trying to stay afloat,” Contreras said. “We’re not trying to create a situation that is creating more confusion or making it harder.”
Contreras said bringing the item before the council was partially due to trash and litter around the city. As a result, the Surfrider Foundation and Oceana gave a presentation to the council in January on the impacts of single-use plastics, while at least 20 residents spoke in favor of an ordinance during the March 9 meeting.
In a moment of humor, Mayor Judy Ritter said businesses are being creative regarding single-use plastic, noting one restaurant gave her a noodle to use as a straw.
However, consumption and use of single-use plastic containers, utensils, shopping bags and more have exploded since the pandemic began, Contreras said, and reusable grocery bags were banned for several months in the early months of crisis.
Much of the plastic use came as residents had to order more takeout because of the pandemic, she explained.
Many have fallen back into those habits of using plastic, she added, but she and the council want to make sure the approach is done in a way to avoid further stress on businesses.
Contreras said since so many other cities already have ordinances, along with several state laws, the issue should move quickly as it’s known what does and doesn’t work.
“We have a lot of litter,” Contreras said, who also holds a weekly cleanup in the city. “We find a ton of straws, Styrofoam and a lot of utensils. They really want to see our council address the litter issue when it comes to pollution and trash.”
Although Contreras and Councilwoman Katie Melendez pressed for a quick turnaround for an ordinance, the council approved tapping city staff to bring back a “menu” of options along with outreach to restaurants and businesses to help craft the best path forward.
Contreras, along with the council, said the options and ordinance will focus on single-use plastic items such as cutlery, straws, stirrers, condiment packets and Styrofoam packaging.
Additionally, the council wants to put forward a program making the phase-out “fun” to help encourage businesses and residents to change. The “fun,” Contreras said, is conceptual but allows for businesses and residents to pitch ideas to spur change.
Councilman Joe Green, like the other council members, said the plastic pollution crisis must be addressed and the council can take the lead. He said addressing the problem will help with the beautification of the city, while the council said by taking the lead, it can be an example through its entities such as the Moonlight Theater, Wave Waterpark and other venues.
“This is a great opportunity to include something in our city that can help with diversion of waste,” Green said. “Create policy to alter patterns and behavior.”
Councilman John Franklin also supports the measure and said once consumers begin to demand change, businesses follow suit fast. Like Green and Ritter, he expressed concerns for moving too fast without first engaging with businesses and having staff return with options.
Still, the council is optimistic it can approve an ordinance before its July recess.