The Long Beach City Council discussed an expansion of the citywide single-use plastic ban and straw exemption for people with disabilities on Tuesday.
The expansion includes a ban on polystyrene, the synthetic plastic used to make packing peanuts, grocery meat trays and egg cartons.
In the original ordinance, take-out food could only be accompanied with plastic straws and plastic cutlery if the customer requested it. Under the new ban, all food establishments must offer only non-plastic straws.
Long Beach’s ban on single-use plastics was first approved in April of 2018 and gave businesses 18 months to adhere to the new regulations. The council approved a phased approach, allowing small businesses more time to adhere to the ban.
The ban of single-use plastic cup lids will go into effect March of this year and the amended ordinance proposes a full retail ban of single-use plastics by October of this year, keeping in line with the original timeline set in 2018.
So far, the city has an 85% compliance rate as of January, according to Deputy Director of Public Works Diko Melkonian. He attributed the 15% noncompliance rate to businesses still in the process of expiring their existing inventory.
“In the history of Long Beach, there’s been a lot of times where we’ve had a vision, had a new ordinance, and implementation hasn’t gone that great,” Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce said. “I’m really proud of Long Beach for this.”
In August of 2014, California became the first state to introduce a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. Since the bill was approved by voters in 2016, many cities have created their own, stricter forms of legislation.
Long Beach isn’t the first city in California to ban polystyrene. At least 120 cities or counties in California have banned polystyrene in some form, including Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach and Santa Barbara, according to the nonprofit Californians Against Waste.
According to Melkonian, 26 of these cities have ordinances against the retail sale of polystyrene. Long Beach is set to become the 27th.
Initially, Long Beach’s ban did not include straws in their definition of banned “disposable food service wares.” If the amendment is approved in its final reading, food providers will only be allowed to use paper, sugarcane, bamboo and other non-petroleum based biodegradable straws. This definition excludes plastics and bioplastics.
However, there is one exception. In his presentation, Melkonian proposed an exception for consumers who have disabilities, making the use of a plastic straw a necessity.
City Councilwoman Mary Zendejas wholeheartedly agreed with the exception, as she is disabled.
“As a person with a disability, that can’t lift up a cup to drink from, I thank you again for all those that are out there in my same situation,” Zendejas said. “I’m excited to see that Long Beach is moving forward on something like this.”
In the previous version of the ordinance, the ban on plastic use in “prepared food” did not include packaged meats and vegetables. Grocers often use polystyrene foam trays to package meat and produce. They’re now included in the ban.
One item not included in the ban is single-use plastic utensils. During public comment, Craig Cadwallader from the environmental nonprofit Surfrider, expressed his disappointment with the exclusion of plastic utensils from the ban.
“It’s unfortunate that utensils aren’t included in this, as they are in many other ordinances, including Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Culver City,” Cadwallader said. “I hope you might look at that. I don’t know why utensils were exempted but they never get recycled, they’re always landfill.”
The ordinance was approved by the council 9-0. Due to new amendments, the ordinance will come back for an official first reading during next week’s meeting.
The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 5 p.m. at 411 W. Ocean Boulevard Civic Chambers, Long Beach.