During every visit to the beach, Sheila Morovati, her husband and their two kids each pick up at least 10 pieces of trash. Almost always, every item is made of plastic: straws, bottle caps, lids, forks.
So last year, Morovati helped lead a campaign to get rid of plastic straws in the city of Malibu. The effort culminated Monday night with the City Council banning the seaside town’s roughly 65 restaurants and food vendors from offering or selling plastic straws, stirrers and utensils to customers.
“This is a community based on its ocean and beaches and we want to protect those,” said Craig George, the city’s environmental sustainability director.
“Individual cities have to decide how they’re going to protect the earth,” he said. “We’ve got to start somewhere. If we can start locally, that’s the best place to start.”
Businesses have until June 1, when the ban takes effect, to make the change, swapping out the plastic items for ones made of paper, wood or bamboo. Diners are also encouraged to use reusable straws and cutlery made of metal or glass.
“This is the right thing to do,” said Mayor Rick Mullen. Even if people have to “pay a little more for something to do the right thing, it’s the right thing to do.”
The new law marks the beach town’s latest move to crack down on the distribution of single-use plastics. Malibu was early to adopt a plastic shopping bag ban, passing an ordinance in 2008 to keep bags from drifting into the ocean and killing marine life.
Los Angeles followed suit five years later, and eventually the bag ban went statewide. Supporters of the latest restrictions on plastic cutlery and straws in Malibu hope it takes root in a similar way.
“If Malibu is doing it, so many other cities will follow suit,” Morovati said.
Critics say the ban will have far-reaching impacts on business owners who may struggle to find — and pay for — viable alternatives, which are more expensive, in bulk.
In a city report on the new law, officials cited a figure widely used by environmentalists when advocating for people to ditch plastic straws: that 500 million single-use plastic straws are discarded per day across the nation.
Turns out, that number is based on research conducted by a teenager who, in 2011, when he was 9 years old, asked manufacturers how many straws they produce a day. It’s unclear how valid his figure is, but environmentalists say it’s probably not far off.
“Give or take a couple hundred or thousands, it’s still an incredible number of straws per day,” George said.
Environmental activists said plastic is especially harmful when it winds up in the ocean because it’s not biodegradable.
“It gets into smaller and smaller and smaller pieces, but it doesn’t go away,” said Harlin Savage, communications director for the nonprofit recycler Eco-Cycle. “All plastic trash is winding up in landfills, littering the countryside, in the oceans.”
This may not be the last ban on single-use plastics in the coastal enclave. As a next step, Malibu has its eye on another item often collected during beach cleanups: plastic lids.