Update: City Council did vote on Nov. 6 to implement the ban on single-use plastics.
On Wednesday Nov. 6, Pacific Grove City Council will consider a ban on single-use plastic products for a wide swath of businesses. If implemented, the ban will go into effect on April 22, 2020.
The ordinance is a result of an 18-month outreach effort that involved meetings with businesses, environmental groups and city officials. Many businesses have already made the switch, says Milas Smith, sustainability coordinator for Pacific Grove. Two years ago, environmental nonprofit Sustainable Pacific Grove and the P.G. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to local businesses, encouraging them to give up disposable straws for “No Straw November.” Since then, many restaurants have voluntarily adopted compostable or reusable alternatives.
The city follows Carmel, which banned plastic straws and utensils in 2017, and Monterey, which implemented a similar ban earlier this year. County Supervisor Mary Adams has proposed a ban that would apply to unincorporated Monterey County.
Agustin Arreola, owner of Dos Victorias restaurant in Monterey, switched from using paper plates for restaurant dining to washable ceramic dishes a few months ago. He says the main challenge in conforming to the new regulation was finding a distributor for compostable products. “We didn’t know where to find them,” he says. Smith says the other local bans have made finding suppliers easier for businesses in Pacific Grove, having “effectively changed the marketplace on the Peninsula.”
But Pacific Grove’s ordinance includes not only restaurants but also hotels and—a first for plastic bans in the state—laundromats. That poses a challenge for Sue Baek, owner of Dimaggio’s Dry Cleaning. She’s trying to convince her customers to buy reusable garment bags, but so far less than 10 percent have made the switch. She fears losing customers to competitors in Monterey and Seaside that still provide traditional plastic bags. Smith has proposed adding an extra eight months of preparation time for laundromats, but Baek says that might not be enough: “It would be more fair if the garment bag ban were everywhere [across the region],” she says.
One reason behind the push is SB 1383, a 2016 state law that mandates a 50-percent reduction in organic waste by 2020. The bill aims to reduce emissions of methane, which is released as landfills decompose. Another factor is China’s National Sword policy, a ban on the import of most foreign plastic waste. Since China was formerly the chief processor of American plastic, recyclables are increasingly ending up in domestic landfills.
That’s not to mention what happens when plastics escape the landfill. Plastic debris has been found in the stomachs of many local wildlife species, including crabs and marine mammals. Recent research from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found microplastics throughout the Monterey Bay, up to 1,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface.
Barbara Meister, public affairs director at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, says reducing consumption on the front end, rather than focusing on downstream recycling, is key to tackling the problem.
“Plastic production has skyrocketed in the past 15 years,” she says. “If the bathtub is overflowing, turn off the tap.”
The proposed ordinance permits alternatives certified as compostable by the Biodegradable Products Institute. Although Pacific Grove doesn’t yet have a curbside recycling program, Smith says compostable products will break down much more quickly than conventional plastic, even in landfills. If an item does escapes into the ocean, it won’t persist nearly as long.
Meister acknowledges that Pacific Grove is a small community, but says the impacts of this ordinance could extend far beyond city lines.
“It would really be a model for communities across California,” she says. “This is a chance for the Monterey Peninsula to lead like we’ve led so many times before.”