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City Tightens Plastic Ordinances, Bans Straws

Apr 18, 2018 04:57PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Grades of Green students and the "straw monster" pose with the Manhattan Beach City Council at its April 17 meeting.

The Manhattan Beach City Council voted 5-0 to approve ordinance that would eliminate the use of single-use plastic items such as straws by January 2019.

The new policy would prohibit merchants from offering plastic straws, stirrers, and utensils; as well as polystyrene produce trays, egg cartons, and packing materials. Disposable straws and utensils could be available upon request.

The timeline calls for education and outreach to begin this month; the ordinances would be implemented on July 1; and enforcement would begin on January 1, 2019.

The new policy was cheered by young Grades of Green students and the "straw monster," who attended the meeting to speak in favor of the new rules.

Dana Murray, environmental programs manager for the City of Manhattan Beach, gave the official presentation on the proposal. She noted that plastic utensils and plastic straws are the 5th and 6th most-picked-up items of trash on the beach (with cigarettes being number one).

"Scientists estimate that by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by weight," Murray said.

Murray added that polystyrene is super-light, which makes it easily carried by wind or water, and tends to break up into small pieces that can be ingested by birds or marine life. There are many alternatives now available such as "corn puff" packing material that dissolves in water, she said.

Manhattan Beach has earned a reputation as a leader in environmental stewardship of plastics. It was one of the first cities to nix plastic bags when it moved to ban them in 2008. A court challenge brought the issue all the way to the California Supreme Court in 2011, where the ban prevailed. The city has since banned polystyrene cups and lids as well as ice chests.

"We’ve been seen as a leader in reducing single-use plastic. And as we’ve seen with the plastic bag ordinance, sometimes others follow suit as well," she said. "Our actions can have direct and indirect ripple effects up and down the state."

The city stopped short of including polystyrene food trays for raw meat in the new ordinance. Tim James, the senior manager of government relations for the California Grocers Association, spoke at the meeting to express concern about the lack of a safe alternative to polystyrene trays for raw meat.

"Food safety has to be the number one priority," said James. "[Using a polystyrene tray for raw meat] is very different from what restaurants do for leftovers. It has to be safe for storage in the store, and for transportation home, and for the refrigerator... If there was something we had that met that need, we'd be moving in that direction."

But Craig Cadwallader, the policy coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, said that even plastic trays were better alternatives to polystyrene trays as it relates to litter on the beach. "Polystyrene blows around and disintegrates. But I can pick up a plastic tray," he said.

The council agreed to leave that item off the table while experts continue to explore the issue.

In the meantime, several local restaurants have already taken the lead on eliminating straws and single-use plastic products. Over at The Kettle, the restaurant voluntarily discontinued the use of plastic drinking straws (with recyclable straws available upon request) back in January. And the Zislis Group - parent company Shade Hotel, Rock'n Fish, The Strand House and Brewco - has since replaced all of its plastic straws with paper straws, which are available upon request.

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