IN USE: Reusable bags have become a common sight since a ban on plastic bags began. (Photo by Brandon Wise)

The City of Santa Monica’s new ban on disposable plastic sailed through its second reading at City Council despite last-minute concerns from a group representing California grocery stores.

New laws require two hearing before the City Council and at the Aug. 24 meeting, four ordinances were rapidly approved in under three minutes. No discussion occurred on any of the items but a state trade association had sent a letter objecting to the City’s proposed ban on plastic items prior to the meeting.

The California Grocers Association (CGA) is a non-profit, statewide trade association that represents over 300 retail members operating more than 6,000 food stores in California and Nevada, and approximately 150 grocery supplier companies. The organization said the City’s new rules require the use of a product that does not exist.

“In consultation with food packaging experts and food packaging manufacturers it has been made clear to us that ‘marine degradable’ food packaging does not exist because it cannot serve the role of keeping food safe and retaining its quality while still being able to degrade in marine environments,” said the letter. “It is important, to note that even simple products, such as paper and bagasse, contain different coatings and glues which prohibit it from achieving ‘marine degradable’ status.”

The CGA said the rules go too far.

“City Council made very clear at the First Reading of this ordinance they wish to have a stringent and progressive food packaging ordinance. However, our assessment of the current draft of the ordinance that it has crossed the line from progressive into unrealistic,” said their letter.

The City’s new rules are an expansion of existing bans on polystyrene containers and single-use plastic bags.

As of January 2019, Santa Monica will ban all single-use plastic for food including straws, lids, utensils, plates, bowls, trays, containers, stirrers, cups, and lid plugs. Any products used in the city will have to degrade in the ocean.

Chief Sustainability Officer Dean Kubani said the grocers’ concerns are specifically addressed in the details of the ordinance. Kubani said the definition of “marine degradable” is currently in development and while it likely won’t include plastic, a set of standards are on the way. In the meantime, the Santa Monica rules allow for any item deemed “compostable” to be used until the official language is released.

He said implementing the city ordinance now is important because the City wants to have rules in place mandating environmentally sustainable products as soon as possible.

“Council said it pretty clearly, they want to push the industry to come up with effective products that will meet the standard,” said Kubani. “Just like our other ordinances have done with packaging.”

Staff are preparing an outreach and education campaign for businesses pending implementation of the rules in 2019. In addition to helping businesses avoid banned items, the City will also maintain a list of products and materials that meet the rules.

Kubani said in a worst-case scenario, businesses can apply for a one year, non-renewable exemption to the rule if they can show complying would cause economic hardship.

“If there’s no truly feasible alternative for food safety then they’ll get a waiver and we’ll wait and see what the market comes up with,” he said.

For more information on the upcoming ban, visit www.sustainablesm.org/foodware.

 

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