Encinitas council approves ban on plastic straws

(Charlie Neuman)

Encinitas fast-food restaurants and take-out places will be required to start phasing out their use of plastic straws and utensils early next year, the City Council decided Wednesday, Dec.18.

“I’m really excited this is before us tonight,” Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said, noting that the city has a “really unique responsibility” to do something about reducing the use of plastics because Encinitas is a coastal community and plastic pollution in the ocean is a huge concern.

Councilwoman Jody Hubbard said she, too, was eager to enact the proposed ordinance.

“I want to move approval of this yesterday,” she said.

The council’s vote was for initial approval of a proposed ordinance. The item is scheduled to return for a second and final vote Jan. 22, and the phase-out of plastic straws and utensils is scheduled to begin Feb. 22, with a full-scale ban on the distribution of single-use, plastic straws occurring Aug. 1. This ordinance doesn’t call for plastic utensils to be banned, but it does discourage their use.

There’s another ordinance in the works that would ultimately prohibit stores from selling plastic utensils, city environmental programs manager Erik Steenblock said.

During the first few months of the plastic straw ban ordinance, fast-food workers would be required to start asking customers if they want a straw with their drinks or plastic utensils with their take-out food, rather than simply providing these items without asking. The new ordinance doesn’t apply to sit-down restaurants because there’s already a state law that bans those places from giving their patrons plastic straws without asking first if they want them, Steenblock said.

Before their vote, the council members heard from about a dozen supporters of the proposed ordinance, including many youth members of the nonprofit CleanEarth4Kids organization, plus several scientists and a representative for Surfrider Foundation.

One of the speakers, Encinitas resident Helen Bourne, showed her reusable “spork” to the council, saying she carried it with her everywhere, so she didn’t have to accept plastic silverware when she dined out. It’s time for a cultural shift away from the mindset that’s it’s OK to have single-use plastic forks or straws, and this new ordinance will help change people’s attitudes, she said.

“I think it’s a good start and very much needed,” Bourne said.

Surfrider representative Alexandra Ferron said her organization has helped support nearly every plastic reduction ordinance in San Diego County. She said plastic waste is at epidemic levels and the use of disposable plastic items ought to be eliminated, just like people pulling out weeds.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear told the crowd that she was pleased to see teenagers speaking out at the meeting.

“There are actually very few issues that do draw out a youth voice,” she said, mentioning that environmental issues and gun violence are the only ones that typically do.

Steenblock said this is the first of three plastic-reduction ordinances that the council is scheduled to consider in the coming months. The second ordinance, which the council is scheduled to consider in February, calls for prohibiting the sale and distribution of plastic beverage containers on city-owned properties and at city events. The third one, which the council expects to consider in April, would expand the city’s existing ban on polystyrene products as well as banning the sale of plastic utensils and straws.

The three proposed ordinances have been recommended by the city’s Environmental Commission as ways to bring Encinitas closer to being a “plastic-free” community, Steenblock said.

— Barbara Henry is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union Tribune