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City Council Targets Coffee Lids, Straws And Retail Sale Of Polystyrene In Expanded Food Packaging Policy

The Long Beach City Council on October 15 directed City Attorney Charles Parkin to amend the city ordinance banning restaurants’ use of expanded polystyrene products for food packaging to include a ban on #6 coffee cup lids, which are typically used for to-go hot coffee, in lieu of recyclable alternatives. The amendment would also require that straws be made available only upon request in food establishments, and that those straws must not be made of plastic or bioplastic, which is often made from corn starch.

Additionally, 5th District Councilmember Stacy Mungo made a motion, which was accepted by the item’s principal author, 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga, to also expand the ordinance to ban the retail sale of polystyrene food containers.

Parkin and Public Works Director Craig Beck clarified that they would return to the council with an amended ordinance banning #6 coffee lids and plastic/bioplastic straws, and that this would constitute a fourth phase of implementation for the ordinance. When the amended ordinance is brought back to the council, councilmembers could decide to adopt it as is, or to instruct city staff to add a provision banning the retail sale of polystyrene food containers, according to Parkin.

Adopted on April 17, 2018, the ordinance included three phases of adoption. The first, which occurred September 3 of 2018, applied to city departments, facilities, contractors, vendors and events. The second phase, effective March 3, 2019, applied to restaurants with seating for 101 patrons or more, franchise eateries, grocery and convenience stores, food trucks and the Long Beach Unified School District. The third phase goes into effect on December 3, 2019, and applies to restaurants and food providers that seat 101 patrons or fewer. The third phase also implements a ban on the sale of polystyrene ice chests, bean bags and crafts, and specifies that take-away straws and utensils may only be given upon request.

No business owners provided public commentary on the item. In a presentation about the implementation of the original ordinance, Diko Melkonian, deputy director of public works, detailed the city’s outreach to the business community. The health department began making site visits to affected businesses in September 2018, and the public works department has visited nearly 300 restaurants since June 2019, Melkonian stated.

About one-third of businesses affected by the upcoming third phase implementation of the ordinance are already in compliance, according to Melkonian, who noted that 77% of the city’s food establishments fall into this category.

Enforcement of the ordinance falls into a four-step procedure. The first step focuses on educating a business in violation, the second focuses on reinforcing compliance requirements, the third may result in a citation or hearing and the fourth may result in referral to the city prosecutor or the business licensing bureau for further review, according to Melkonian.

“I completely commend the city council and the city staff for working on this issue, and the councilmembers that have continuously brought this issue up,” Mayor Robert Garcia stated during the meeting. “These actions have consequences statewide. And when we passed our plastic bag ban, it affected the states’ then-decision on plastic bags. Our polystyrene work has affected the way the state deals with polystyrene, and what we’re doing with straws will affect further laws statewide.”

Garcia added, “Long Beach has always led on these issues, and I’m really proud that this council continues to do that.”

The council voted 6-0 to approve the item. Councilmembers Jeannine Pearce and Rex Richardson were absent.

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