Urban runoff litters the beach following a rainstorm. (File photo)

Santa Monica has joined the ranks of cities banning disposable plastic for food containers, specifically banning food providers from using plastic straws, plates, bowls, trays, lids, utensils, cups, stirrers and lidded containers.

Council expanded on the staff recommendations to specifically ban plastic lids. The discussion this week only banned food providers from providing the materials to customers but Council also asked for an additional discussion in the future to specifically ban the sale of the items at retail locations within the city.

“As a beach city, single-use plastics pose serious problems for the natural environment, including polluting the ocean and clogging landfills,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Dean Kubani in a statement. “With this vote, the City Council ensures that Santa Monica continues to leads on the environment by being one of the first cities to ban all plastic food service ware, including cups and lids. This decision will protect our beaches while also getting us closer to our zero waste goal by 2030.”

The ban covers the material used to make the items, not the items themselves. Businesses can still provide utensils, lids, cups or other items if they are made from material that breaks down in the ocean. These marine-degradable products are often made from plant material such as wood, fiber or paper.

The rule will take effect in January of 2019. The City will conduct outreach and education campaigns for the duration of this year.

Businesses can apply for a one year, non-renewable exemption to the rule if they can show complying would cause economic hardship. The original proposal allowed for exemptions to be renewed but Council chose to create a one-time exemption to incentivize businesses to make the switch.

The rule applies to anyone serving prepared food within city limits and stipulates the allowed disposable items be provided only upon request. Plastic straws can still be given to customers who require their use due to a medical condition.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis asked staff to explore a “guilt free beverage” program that would encourage businesses to begin offering incentives for customers who voluntarily choose sustainable options before the law begins.

“If direction we could give as part of this outreach program to specifically to look for carrots and sticks to encourage the immediate adoption in places that serve both hot and cold beverages of marine biodegradable containers so that even though they are more expensive that people be given the option to use them, like a guilt free beverage program,” she said.

Councilwoman Sue Himmelrich also advocated for an adoption incentive program.

“I think the city ought to think about doing some sort of sustainable program to do this because I think that all of the enforcement you can do is probably not as good as these people that are choosing to go to places that comply with these sustainability requirements and give them business and if people start going to those businesses and stay away from other businesses, people will get the message,” she said.

Councilman Kevin McKeown made the motion to adopt the rules and said Santa Monica should continue to explore more rules banning plastic, including an analysis of what could be done to address or regulate the manufacture of plastic items.

“People are going to mock us for this, but this will make a difference,” he said.


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Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...