Encinitas backs ban on distributing single-use plastic bottles

(Charlie Neuman)

Proposed ban would apply to special events at city parks, buildings


A proposal to ban people from distributing little water bottles or other plastic-bottled beverages on city properties or at city-sponsored events won initial approval from the Encinitas City Council Wednesday, Feb. 26.

The ban, which is proposed to take effect Sept. 1 and needs one more council vote in order to do so, is the latest in a string of actions city officials are taking to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in landfills or washes up on beaches. An ordinance phasing out the use of plastic utensils and straws has just gone into effect.

“(It’s) a great demonstration of the values a coastal city should have,” Councilman Tony Kranz said as he described why he was “very excited” to vote on the plastic bottle ordinance.

The proposed ordinance will apply to the distribution of plastic bottles that are less than one liter in size and are considered single-use containers. It’s not just water bottles; it’s any beverage that comes in these single-use, plastic beverage containers, city environmental programs manager Erik Steenblock told the council.

Speaking to a reporter after the council vote, Steenblock stressed that the proposed ordinance bans the distribution of these bottles, rather than the possession of a single bottle. The ordinance aims to end the practice of handing out hundreds of free, disposable drink bottles at large events, such as festivals or sports tournaments, he said.

There’s an exemption in the ordinance for what’s termed “personal consumption,” so a family could bring a picnic into a city park and the kids could drink bottles of soda without facing a fine, Steenblock said. There’s also an exemption for the distribution of bottles in emergency situations, the ordinance states.

People who violate the city’s proposed distribution ban could face $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for the second and $500 for each one after that.

Jennifer Campbell, the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts director, told the council that city employees are recommending that the ban not take effect until September, so that information about the ban can be included in the special event planning guides the city distributes each year. In the coming months, city employees will be educating special event organizers about the change and encouraging them to explore other hydration options, she said.

City parks and most city facilities already have water bottle refilling stations, in addition to drinking fountains, she said.

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze, the former executive director of the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association, said she knew first-hand of some companies that would be willing to donate the use of water dispensing machines for large special events. The Leucadia association used these systems during some of its events, she said.

Early in the evening, the council heard from students who serve on pollution prevention groups at Ocean Knoll and Park Dale Lane Elementary schools. They urged the council to do more to reduce single-use plastics. One group said they’d successfully lobbied the Encinitas Union School District to stop using disposable plastic “sporks” in favor of reusable metal silverware, while the other started a “Plastics Police” group and rewarded kids who brought their lunches in reusable containers.

“If our school can do it, our city can do it, too,” one student speaker told the council.

The only other member of the public to address the council on the plastics item that night was plastic waste reduction advocate Helen Bourne, who also spoke in favor of the plastic straw and utensil ordinance in December.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” Bourne said. “Yes, we need to get the plastic off the beach and out of our lives.”

In April, the council’s slated to consider the final of three plastic waste reduction measures. It would expand the city’s existing ban on polystyrene products and ban the sale of plastic utensils and straws.

-- Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune