Solana Beach dives deeper into single-use plastics ban

A trash can overflows with discarded plastic cups and straws.
(Union-Tribune file photo by John Gibbins)

Solana Beach, one of the first cities in the state to ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers, has some new targets.

Disposable plastic straws, stirrers, spoons, forks and knives would be prohibited at restaurants, coffee shops and other vendors, under a proposal discussed Nov. 13 by the Solana Beach City Council.

Also, single-use plastic beverage bottles such as the ubiquitous 16-ounce clear polyethylene water container would be off limits at all city events and on city properties where fountains and other hydration sources are available.

“The city has long been the leader in environmental stewardship,” Assistant City Manager Dan King said in a presentation to the council, which directed the city staff to investigate further ways to accomplish the ban and get residents on board.

The proposal from the city’s Climate Action Commission, which was formed in 2015, would take that stewardship to a higher level.

Research shows only about 9 percent of the world’s plastic is recycled, commission member Jane Yang told the council. About 12 percent is incinerated, and the rest accumulates in landfills and elsewhere in the environment. Islands of plastic trash float in the oceans.

Plastic is not biogradable. It eventually breaks into small particles known as “microplastics” that work their way into the food chain.

Also, the production of plastic bottles consumes large amounts of energy and oil, creating greenhouse gases and other negative environmental effects.

An increasing variety of low-cost alternatives made of wood and other biodegradable materials are available in stores and online.

“Plastic is … a worldwide problem,” said James Wang, a member of the Encinitas Environmental Commission.

“By setting a precedent, you are doing the right thing and letting other cities know what is the right thing to do,” Wang said, adding that he hopes his own city of Encinitas will follow suit.

Solana Beach is a leader in a state known as the front-runner in environmental responsibility.

Assembly Bill 1884, passed in September and effective in 2019, prohibits restaurants from providing customers with single-use plastic straws except upon request. Another bill introduced this year, Senate Bill 1335, prohibits non-recyclable and non-compostable take-out food packaging at state parks, beaches, colleges and fairgrounds.

Solana Beach council members agreed their city should take the restrictions further. An update and possibly a draft ordinance prepared by the city staff could be ready for consideration early next year.

“We do have to be part of the solution,” said Councilwoman Lesa Heebner. “It’s really scary what’s happening to this planet.”

Residents and businesses such as grocery stores need to be part of the process, she said, so that they are fully informed of the changes ahead.

“Outreach is important,” said Councilman Peter Zahn, a member of the city’s Climate Action Commission.

Solana Beach was the first city in San Diego County to ban single-use plastic bags in 2012. It was first to ban polystyrene take-out food containers in 2015.

This year, it also became the first city in the county to adopt a community choice energy program, which allows residents to purchase a higher percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.

--Phil Diehl is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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