The City Council unanimously endorsed on Tuesday a proposal to keep the ocean free of nonrecyclable plastic.
The council’s 4-0 vote to develop an ordinance banning the nonrecyclables, while unanimous, did not include a vote by Elizabeth Schneider, who was absent.
City staff was instructed to develop an ordinance banning eateries from serving food in single-use, nonrecyclable containers and to provide recycling receptacles. The proposed ordinance was recommended by the city’s Environmental Committee and supported by speakers at the council meeting.
“Contrary to what the ‘Plastics Council’ would have you believe, this is not a debris, nor is it a trash, issue,” said longtime resident Walker Reed. “A polystyrene cup, when it is full of coffee, can last 20 minutes in your hand, but can last 200 years in the marine environment if not properly disposed of.”
Reed said nonrecyclable plastic is more of a hazard to the environment than cigarette butts, because of its cumulative effect.
“As a Waste Management [representative], as a mom and as a resident, I support this,” said Michelle Clark. “Styrofoam sucks.”
Village Flatlander founder Tom Girvin said the consequences of Styrofoam are obvious on the city beaches.
“I have been a deep sea fisherman all my life,” Councilman Kelly Boyd said. “Harbors are a mess with this. We need to clean it up. Starting here at home is a good move.”
Single-use, polystyrene containers are banned at city-sponsored events.
Reed urged the council to collaborate with the business community to educate the public about those pesky nurdles — the little round beads that are impervious to water, deadly to wildlife and have a shelf life of centuries that make up the non-recyclables.
“Laguna already has good examples of local businesses that have voluntarily embraced this important environmental issue and made it work,” Reed said.
A ban on non-recyclable plastic or polystyrene containers would not put stores or restaurants out of business, Reed opined.
The ordinance is not intended to ban take-out containers or complicate the life of local business owners, he said.
“We have to get businesses and the Chamber of Commerce involved,” Bill Roley said.
The proposed ordinance was supported by Carey Strombotne, speaking on behalf of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy, and Chip McDermott, who has organized Zero Trash Laguna.
“Laguna should lead the way,” McDermott said.
Alternatives to the non-recyclables are readily available and cheaper, according to Reed.
“Most regular packaging distributors carry paper, wax paper laminates, cornstarch and other biodegradable containers,” Reed said. “Furthermore, the prices of ‘alternative to plastic’ materials have gone down while the price of petroleum-based plastics has gone up with the price of oil.”
Reed opined that data on plastics should be updated.
“In the last three years, much new information has been forthcoming in both the area of science and public policy, especially focused on polystyrene and certain non-recyclable or bio-degradable plastic polymers,” Reed said.
“The curtailment of DDT, banning the use of asbestos and the science and public policy on smoking are similar health issues that unfolded based on new scientific understanding and information.”
Mayor Toni Iseman said the city must be strong enough to withstand pressure from the plastics industry.
“The men in suits will show up,” she said.
In addition to single-use containers, Reed also urged the city to take a long look at the polystyrene ice chests and other products sold in markets and review how polystyrene “popcorn” is handled by local shippers.
A prohibition on the use of non-recyclable containers in local restaurants was addressed in 2004 by the city’s Water Quality Department in a brief that identified trends, general impacts and estimated costs associated with a ban.
The report also indicated that the cost of biodegradable plastic at that time was more than three times the cost of poly foam.
California cities that had approved a ban at that time included Berkeley, West Hollywood, Fairfax, Portland and Port Townsend.
“The fact [that] this issue came back independently three years later only underscores the need to get something done,” Reed said.
The Environmental Committee, which supports the ban, will schedule meetings to gather information and seek consensus from the restaurant owners, the chamber and the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau.
“We need to create an ordinance that will make everybody happy,” Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman said.