A proposal to phase out the use of plastic straws and utensils at fast-food restaurants and takeout places in Encinitas will go before the City Council this week.
Initially, the proposed ordinance, which the council is scheduled to consider Wednesday, Dec. 18, will require fast food workers to ask first before they hand out plastic straws or utensils to their customers. Some months later, plans call for a phased-in ban of plastic straws but not utensils, city environmental programs manager Erik Steenblock said.
This is the first of three, plastic waste-reduction measures that Encinitas residents can expect to hear more about in the coming months, he told participants at a recent community workshop.
Next up after the plastic straw debate is a proposal to prohibit the sale and distribution of plastic beverage containers on city-owned properties and at city events. That may go up for a vote in February. And, finally, an expansion of the city’s ban on polystyrene products may come before the council in April, Steenblock said.
All three proposals have been put forward by the city’s Environmental Commission as a way to bring Encinitas closer to being a “plastic free” community. The goal is to reduce the plastic trash that pollutes the ocean and the city’s beaches, he added, mentioning that plastic materials in the world’s oceans are “expected to outweigh fish in the sea by 2050.”
“This is a local problem, it’s happening here,” he said, noting that plastic products are the number one trash material collected during city beach cleanups.
About two dozen people attended the city-sponsored gathering last week and all of them appeared gung-ho about the various proposals. Several people asked city employees to put these plastic-reduction measures on a fast-track process, saying they wanted the phase-in periods for the bans to be as short as possible. Two people also asked for more enforcement of the city’s existing bans on single-use plastic bags and on polystyrene takeout food containers, saying some takeout places are still using Styrofoam containers and some shops still give out plastic bags. The city banned polystyrene takeout containers and coffee cups in 2017 and plastic bags in 2015.
Attendees included several Environmental Commission members and some representatives for area environmental organizations. Rachael Coccia, Surfrider Foundation’s plastic pollution manager, told fellow attendees that while they waited for the city to enact more plastic bans, they could make an effort to support local businesses that already limit their use of plastic products. Surfrider Foundation has an ever-updating list of “ocean-friendly” restaurants on its web site, she noted.
To get a mention on the list, which can be viewed at www.surfrider.org/programs/ocean-friendly-restaurants?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI2Lu4jvms5gIVmJOzCh27QQWCEAAYASAAEgIWQfD_BwE, restaurants must not use polystyrene, offer paper straws only on request and be avid recyclers, among other criteria.
Steenblock said the city’s proposed straw ban only applies to fast food and takeout places because the state already bans sit-down restaurants from giving people straws without asking first if they really want them.
“They’re not automatically supposed to give you a plastic straw,” he said.
Speaking to a reporter after the workshop, he said the proposed plastic beverage container ordinance, which the council is scheduled to consider in February, is being modeled on one in Solana Beach. It proposes prohibiting the distribution and sales of plastic beverage bottles that are less than one liter in size, but the ban would only apply to city-owned properties and city-sponsored events.
A family bringing a picnic to the park or the beach wouldn’t be impacted. The proposed ban would apply to large events that require city permits, he stressed. In Solana Beach, city officials also carved out an exemption for youth sporting events that are held on city playing fields, Steenblock said.
— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune