Santa Monica’s City Council decided to ban the use of Styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic by City businesses after hearing from City staff that these products are an important part of beach and ocean pollution.
The City’s Environmental Program Manager Dean Kubani explained to the Council that Styrofoam is non-recyclable and “does not biodegrade,” so it can last for decades or longer and is “easily transported by wind, floats on water and breaks into small pieces.” Documentation has also shown Styrofoam and non-recyclable plastic pieces can cause “negative impacts to birds, marine animals and marine environments.” Alternatives which could be used by businesses such as paper, coated paper, aluminum and bio-based products are “less likely” to have these negative effects on the environment.
However, according to surveys, banning Styrofoam and non-recyclable plastics could impact more than 150 Santa Monica businesses, particularly those selling take-out food. Switching to the alternatives could cost a business from zero percent to 300 percent more than using Styrofoam and plastics. The exact amount is unknown due to a “lack of business data” and variability due to product types and amounts purchased.
Kabani admitted the ban alone would not end the beach and ocean pollution because “a lot of this is coming a long way from other cities through storm drains that empty out into Santa Monica Bay,” and the Styrofoam and plastic are washing up onto the beach. Thus far, the cities of Malibu and Calabasas are the only cities that have such a ban in Los Angeles County.
Council member Richard Bloom expressed his support for the ban by noting other cities may follow Santa Monica’s lead on this “because people do, for better or worse, tend to take notice when Santa Monica acts.” When the City took the lead in banning smoking, on the beach “it spread across the globe.”
Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver was a little more cautious in his support when he stated, “This is a small step amongst many steps that will have to be taken not only by us but other cities.”
Prior to the vote, the Council heard from local business owners with different points of view. Several businesses expressed concerns that the alternative products wouldn’t keep take-out foods such as hot entrees, side dishes, soups and drinks hot enough. Fritto Misto’s general manager Melinda Amaya stressed that about “one-third of her business is to go,” and she only uses Styrofoam products for items that require it to remain hot. “We have tried alternatives,” but end up having “to use four products instead of one.”
The owner of Euphoria restaurant felt differently. She told the Council how her business only uses compostable and biodegradable products for foods to go and they’ve “passed on the value to their customers. This is one of the top five most environmental cities. That’s why I opened my business here and I think the only way to maintain that standpoint from a high dollar tourist perspective is to take a lead on issues like this because if we don’t other people will.”
Mike Levy from the Polystyrene Packaging Council and some other business representatives felt better litter prevention programs would address the pollution problem more effectively rather than enacting a ban.
The ban would be phased in over a year so that the City could “work with businesses to identify and find alternatives,” allow businesses time to finish out their inventories of the banned products and include a hardship clause so businesses could appeal if they would suffer an undue hardship. All City facilities, City-managed concessions and City-sponsored events would follow the ban. The ban will not apply to straws or cup lids. The Council also specified that the City should review the ordinance in two years.
Earlier in the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Shriver responded to an opinion expressed in the June 8 Santa Monica Mirror that the City’s Homeless Czar Ed Edelman is overpaid and hasn’t produced “any concrete results” since starting his work with the City in November 2005. Shriver, who had suggested creating the czar position, emphasized that “the purpose of the position is to get things going that we couldn’t get going before.” He noted that recently former Los Angeles County Supervisor Edelman was named to a six-member search committee to help select the new executive director for the Los Angeles County Homeless Services Agency, joined the City Manager at a meeting with local food providers to encourage moving their programs indoors and is meeting with court officials regarding the effort to establish a local community court. He then stressed, “This is a regional issue. We needed regional representation. We didn’t have it [before] at Edelman’s level.”
The Council also unanimously approved $35,450,000 million from the Big Blue Bus Railway Reserves for the City’s purchase of the Sears Tire and Automotive Center at the southeast corner of 4th and Colorado, which might be used in the future for a light rail terminus, affordable housing, parking or supportive retail. The City has been negotiating with Sears since 2003 for this property. Sears will continue the current operations at this site with a short-term lease for the next three years and have the option to extend the lease with two one-year options.
Finally, the Council adjourned in memory of community activist Chuck Allord who had been a City Council candidate in 2002. He died on June 11 after complications following surgery.