Laguna Beach set to ban single-use plastics for takeout from local eateries

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Cary Redfearn of the Lumberyard restaurant has long packed to-go orders in paper bags and non-plastic containers. A new city law will make all Laguna eateries follow suit. Photo by Barbara McMurray

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach restaurants may no longer use single-use plastics when they package food items for takeout, according to a new city ordinance slated to become law on July 15.

The ban is part of an omnibus ordinance introduced as part of the Neighborhood and Environmental Protection Plan and approved on a 5-0 vote by the City Council on May 18.

The new code prohibits retail food vendors – including not only restaurants but also stores and grocery markets that sell prepared food –– from using items such as foam or plastic containers, straws, stirrers, cups, and cutlery. Upon discussion, the council amended the ordinance to include takeout bags and plastic sleeves. Plastic beverage lids are excluded from the ordinance because there are currently no viable non-plastic alternatives.

The new law, originally drafted by members of the city’s Environmental Sustainability Committee working with city staffers, is part of a growing movement to ban single-use plastics with a goal to reduce trash on beaches, trails, and in parks. In the larger picture, the move will help slow climate change with the switch to nonpetroleum-based containers.

City officials pointed out that this is not a blanket restriction on all single-use plastics citywide. Residents won’t be prohibited from using single-use plastic items on private property, nor does the proposed ordinance restrict grocery stores from selling single-use items.

According to the law, “Any person failing to comply with any of the requirements could be guilty of an infraction or receive an administrative citation.” But first, according to Marine Safety Chief Kevin Snow, “staff would make contact and look to educate” before issuing a citation. “Banning glass on beaches was successful. It takes time to get the word out and to educate the public. We will work through the process with the police department on enforcement if necessary.”

The single-use plastic food container ban is being hailed as a win by local environmental organizations, including Surfrider Foundation.

“Laguna Beach is a springboard for other cities,” Surfrider CEO Chad Nelson said during the May 18 meeting. “For those who say it’s draconian and will stifle business, well, this has an effect and has implications in other cities.”

Laguna Beach joins 38 other cities in California that have plastic bans.

City officials met with 25 restaurants, whose proprietors were largely supportive of the ordinance.

Cary Redfearn, owner of the Lumberyard, said most restaurant owners already use environmentally-friendly takeout containers. Lumberyard uses Bottlebox containers made from recycled plastic to serve salads and paper-based containers for hot food. He noted that prices for nonplastic items have skyrocketed.

“The transition can be done, without a doubt,” Redfearn said. “We learned to bring cloth bags to the grocery store. We can do this. We should do it.”

Multi-use to-go containers are the next possible, even more environmentally sustainable step. Redfearn mentioned that popular San Francisco eatery Zuni is piloting a program using reusable metal containers that guests bring back to restaurants.

Nirvana owner and executive chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales said, “I’m happy to see this. My restaurant has been part of the Green Business Council for five years. This is exactly what every restaurant should be doing anyway.”

Moulin business manager Bryn Mohr said, “We love Laguna Beach and of course we’ll do everything to comply with the new city ordinance. All our silverware is a potato-based compostable material. For our takeout containers, we use kraft paper boxes and soup containers.”

The ordinance will have a second reading at the June 15 council meeting and is expected to become effective July 15.

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