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Crackdowns on balloons and plastic utensils are floated in Newport Beach

Plastic untensils and straws
Proposed foodware changes in Newport Beach include bans on any disposable bowls, plates, cartons, cups, lids, straws, utensils and other items that are not marine degradable or designed to disintegrate in the ocean in less than 120 days.
(File Photo)

Newport Beach could join the movement to ban plastic foodware and largely take balloons out too.

Hoiyin Ip, a member of the Sierra Club’s Angeles chapter, didn’t get a full commitment to proposed restrictions last week when she pitched the idea to the city’s Water Quality and Coastal Tidelands Committee. But members did seem open to the idea of banning restaurants from using single-use plastic utensils and other tableware and clamping down on balloons to keep the nonbiodegradable items out of the ocean.

If the ban gets a committee endorsement and clears the City Council, it would put Newport in league with other Southern California cities that have wide-ranging plastic bans.

“I ate at every fast-food chain in Santa Monica,” Ip said at the committee’s meeting Thursday, holding examples of biodegradable utensils found in that city, where plastic versions have been banned since last year. “Manhattan Beach, same. Malibu, same.”

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Proposed foodware changes in Newport Beach include:

  • banning any disposable bowls, plates, cartons, cups, lids, straws, utensils and other items that are not marine degradable — or designed to disintegrate in the ocean in less than 120 days;
  • giving straws, disposable utensils and condiment packets only on request;
  • charging a 10-cent fee for takeout bags, moving in line with California’s grocery bag fee;
  • encouraging restaurants and vendors to charge 25 cents for marine degradable items to offset the cost and promote change in consumer behavior by making people ponder whether they need to use certain disposable items at all.

Ip brainstormed the potential city code changes with committee member Fred Gallucio. She’s been working with the committee for more than a year on a plastic foodware ban, initially sketching out a voluntary reduction campaign for restaurants.

The “marine degradable” requirement would eliminate conventional plastics and expanded polystyrene, or Styrofoam, the latter of which is already largely prohibited in Newport Beach. The city banned it in 2008 at the urging of local high school students but made some exceptions for ice chests, egg cartons and prepared food packaged out of town. The proposed regulations would eliminate those provisions.

Shane Coons, owner of a Costa Mesa-based company that manufactures environmentally friendly food service products, said there’s a lot of debate about what is truly marine degradable and said little on the market today would qualify.

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Coons, whose products at 4 Blue Waves include bamboo bowls, birch utensils, paper straws and recyclable paper cups lined in a resin-plastic blend, said his company is working on better carryout packaging that could be available next year.

The filmy plastic coating on typical paper versions — designed to make cups, cartons and plates soak-resistant — is a key ecological offender, he said.

“It may be that the approach is to push toward better alternatives that satisfy a recyclable requirement in order to meet the diversion goals,” Coons said.

Balloons also create marine debris and threaten sea animals that mistake them for food — causing them to choke or otherwise be harmed by indigestible material or to become tangled in attached ribbons, according to a proposed code section.

The balloon regulations would affect Mylar, or foil, and latex balloons, including prohibiting any balloons on beaches and in parks or purposely releasing helium-filled latex balloons anywhere. The city also could ban businesses from selling Mylar balloons.

The rules would expand on a state law against releasing Mylar balloons, which can wrap around power lines and cause outages.

“We’re going to add no releasing latex because those balloons travel a long distance too … they drop in the ocean,” Ip said.

Committee member Dennis Baker called Mylar balloons “a bane.”

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“I hate those stinkin’ balloons. I pick them up all the time offshore, in the near shore and far shore,” he said. “I’ve picked them up a couple of miles offshore.”

Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach passed similarly sweeping plastics and balloon bans this year.

Committee member Tom Houston questioned how the rules would be enforced.

“There’s all sorts of rules and regs and if you want to get the guy, yeah, you enforce,” he said. “Otherwise, nothing gets enforced, so people say, ‘Well, these people don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re really not sincere.’”

The water quality committee will continue to refine the proposals.

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