Ryan McDonald

Council adds to plastic, polystyrene bans

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by Ryan McDonald

Hermosa Beach will phase out all plastic straws and silverware, as well as polystyrene meat trays and certain types of balloons, by next summer.

The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance at its Tuesday night meeting that would prohibit the items from being sold or distributed within Hermosa by June 30, 2020. Non-plastic, single-use alternatives, such as paper straws, are to be offered only upon request. 

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Elected officials said that the measure would help address the growing amount of plastic in the oceans, while also improving conditions at local beaches.

Mayor Stacey Armato said that the ordinance was part of needed efforts to protect the environment for future generations. She noted that the Hermosa Beach City School District, at the prodding of its students, voted earlier this year to eliminate polystyrene food trays and single-use plastic water bottles in its cafeterias.

“This is how our kids are being raised. They’re watching what we’re going to do tonight,” Armato said. “This is already our own children’s practice. It’s incumbent on us to pass this evening.”

The production of plastics, which are petroleum-based, add to the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change. The vast majority of these products are not recycled. And the combination of their design and the pattern of their use by consumers — products that are used once, but do not biodegrade — lead to a tendency to accumulate despite active disposal efforts, particularly in the ocean. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the world’s oceans by weight than fish.

Cities around the world have responded with local legislation intended to limit the use, distribution, and sale of varieties of plastics. More than 130 cities and counties throughout California have enacted some kind of limit on polystyrene products. Neighboring Manhattan Beach has enacted a similar ordinance, and others are on the horizon in Redondo Beach and El Segundo.

Like previous environmentally inspired rules the city has adopted in recent years — such bans on plastic bags, Styrofoam food containers and smoking in public places — Tuesday’s ordinance was approved over the objections of some in the business community, who said that it would increase the costs of doing business in Hermosa. In a letter to the council, Maureen Hunt, president of the Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, asked the council to instead consider a program that incentivized firms to make the desired changes.

“Expecting a business to bear 100 percent of the cost/impact associated with policy decisions is not promoting a business-friendly environment,” Hunt wrote.

The council declined, citing arguments from environmentalists that previous attempts at incentive-based programs had failed to adequately reduce the flow of waste.

“I’ve been hearing about incentive-based programs for 25 years, and they don’t work,” said Jose Bacallao, a Hermosa resident who previously managed Heal the Bay’s aquarium.

The California Grocers Association had requested that Hermosa give businesses a year to comply, rather than the roughly eight months provided for in the ordinance, which is less time than was provided in some of the other cities that have passed similar bans. The association said that the grocery industry is still fine-tuning alternative packaging, particularly for the polystyrene trays that hold much of the meat and fish they sell.

The council urged an expansion of the staff’s efforts to reach out to businesses ahead of the ordinance, but declined to delay implementation. Councilmember Justin Massey noted that Manhattan’s ban on polystyrene trays will go into effect in January, and said that grocers in Hermosa could rely on the same distribution network.

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