April 18, 2024 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

Adapting to Santa Monica’s Single-Use Plastic Ban

City’s disposable food-ware ordinance under effect.

By Keldine Hull

When an updated Disposable Food Service Ware Ordinance went into effect in Santa Monica on January 1, 2019, the city became one of the first in the country to ban the use of single-use plastics.

Under the ordinance, all straws, lids, utensils, plates, trays, containers, cups, bowls, containers, stirrers and lid plugs are banned in the City for prepared food products. Retail plastics products from grocery stores and other commercial outlets and not impacted under the scope of the rules.

Additionally, marine degradable straws and utensils may only be provided upon request. The ordinance temporarily exempts cups and cup lids to allow product manufacturers, distributors and businesses more time to acquire ordinance compliant materials.

“As a beach city, single-use plastics pose serious problems for the natural environment, including polluting the ocean and clogging landfills,” said Chief Sustainability Officer Dean Kubani in August after City Council passed the ordinance. “This decision will protect our beaches while also getting us closer to our zero waste goal by 2030.”

Environmental organizations, like the Surfrider Foundation, believe the updated ordinance is a step in the right direction.

“The Surfrider Foundation Los Angeles Chapter conducts beach cleanups along the Santa Monica Bay regularly and some of the most common items are plastic straws, plastic utensils, foam containers, and other foodware and packaging. The updated Disposable Foodware Ordinance will help keep some of these items off the beach and out of the ocean, but more importantly it sets a standard for communities all over the country to develop zero waste strategies and minimize the amount of plastic that ends up in the environment,” said Surfrider Plastic Pollution Manager Trent Hodgers.

Enforcement for the updated ordinance begins on July 1, 2019, but businesses throughout Santa Monica have already started the transition. With the help of Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean- Friendly Restaurant program, the Rustic Canyon Family- which includes Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry Bakery & Café, Milo & Olive, Sweet Rose Creamery, Esters Wine Shop & Bar and Tallula’s- began research into more eco-friendly products before the ordinance passed.

“Our restaurant group has always been dedicated to eco-friendly practices, and we’d been seeking single-use paper and plastic alternatives long before this ordinance came along. Our research obviously deepened and sped up once we heard it was going into effect. It’s not a quick switch, and involves endless hours of research to find products that will fit everyone’s needs. Some don’t even exist, some are cost-prohibitive, some fall apart so quickly and would result in a guest spilling food or burning themselves, and some have a larger carbon footprint because they’re made in China. We’re committed in working with the city on this and having a positive impact on our environment,” said Elise Freimuth, Rustic Canyon Family Director of Communications,

Rustic Canyon Family Executive Project Manager Monica Heffron has been a driving force behind research and testing products that are compliant. Heffron outlines the steps being taken to meet the requirements of the ordinance ahead of the July 1 deadline.

“We are taking a detailed assessment of our takeout wares that need to be replaced under the new ordinance and researching alternatives to replace each one.  Once we find a possible alternative, we take time to thoroughly test it to make sure it functions properly and will be safe for our customers.” Heffron said, “If it does not pass the testing phase, we go back to our suppliers and try to find other replacements. 

In addition, Heffron said that in cases where there is no viable market alternative available, they try to come up with creative packaging solutions to avoid using those products. From a business perspective, Rustic Canyon Family is also running analyses to figure out how to handle the additional costs these changes represent.

Transitioning to more eco-friendly products that meet the requirements of the ordinance doesn’t come without its specific challenges.

“The Rustic Canyon Family has been committed to the goal of making our takeout wares as eco-friendly as possible.  However, the new ordinance poses some operational, financial and legal challenges for us.” Heffron said, “The supplier market is just not ready to provide products that can both meet our needs and are compliant with the new marine-degradable requirements.  While many plastic-alternative products sound good on paper, they pose safety and functionality problems – for example, fiber lids can detach from cups easier, resulting in hot drinks spilling onto customers, paper straws can break down after time in liquid and become a choking hazard, etc.”

Through research, Heffron discovered that while some products are marine- degradable, they still contain chemicals that can pose a health risk to customers.

“We do not want to replace one problem with another, and vetting each new product to make sure it’s safe for our guests takes that much more time and effort.  The market is changing quickly as everyone scrambles to catch up with the new laws put in place, and it can be hard to tell what products are truly eco-friendly and which are just using creative branding without a significant amount of time and research.” Heffron said, “The market for these products is not highly regulated yet or well organized, so it falls on the businesses to research these.  Being a slightly larger group, we’re lucky to have the resources to be able to devote to this task, but even then, it is taxing.”

High demand for compliant materials that cost more than the materials they’re replacing is yet another challenge. Heffron explained that when a suitable alternative product is found, it is often shortly supplied with manufacturers struggling to keep up with the new growth in demand.

“These new alternative products are often at least four times more expensive than the products they’re replacing.  With takeout and delivery business on the rise, this poses a real financial concern for us,” Heffron said. Overall, we hope that this new ordinance will have a positive impact on the environment in the long term, and we’re eager to do our part towards that goal. But there are a lot of challenges to overcome in the short term and a large part of the onus of navigating these falls on the small businesses.”

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