Monterey Bans Plastic Utensils and Straws for Foodservice in a Nod to Ocean Health

This article was originally published by the Monterey County Weekly.

MONTEREY, CA—At first it might look like a bit of dry legislative parlance, but Monterey City Council's Nov. 20 agenda item No. 16, an amendment to Chapter 14 of the Monterey City Code dealing with garbage and refuse, is anything but. 

The first reading of the ordinance—to “Prohibit Use of Plastic Beverage Straws and Amend the Definition of Disposable Food Service Ware to Include Straws, Utensils, Stirrers and Cup Lids Thereby Requiring These Products to be Biodegradable, Compostable or Recyclable”—drew almost a dozen individuals to the microphone during the public comment period.

Representatives from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Save the Whales and the Surfrider Foundation voiced support for the ordinance, which will strengthen the city of Monterey’s already strict single-use disposable plastic laws—banning plastic straws, utensils and stirrers and requiring disposable food service ware to be recyclable, compostable or biodegradable.

Plastic debris littering the beaches of Lana’i, Hawai’i

Plastic debris littering the beaches of Lana’i, Hawai’i

Single-use disposable plastics, including items like straws, takeout containers and coffee cup lids, have been increasingly targeted by advocates of ocean conservation and local and state governments responding to growing concerns about ocean plastic pollution.

According to Ted Terrasas, sustainability coordinator for the city of Monterey, seven billion tons of plastic have been discarded since the 1950s—and only 9 percent of that has been recycled.

It wasn't just the environmental community that showed up to address members of the Monterey City Council. Members of the disabled community who rely on plastic straws to live a life of independence were also in attendance.

The amendment includes an exemption for individuals with a self-identified disability, allowing them to receive plastic straws upon request. The exemption to an all-out ban was applauded during public comment. (This exemption does not apply to other disposable foodservice items, such as utensils.)

The council voted 5-0 to pass the ordinance which is set for a second and final reading on Dec. 4. If passed them, it  will become law on April 22, 2019, Earth Day.

No one spoke in opposition to the ordinance, but Ximena Waissbluth, coordinator for the Monterey Chapter of Surfrider, stressed that while this amendment is a step forward toward eliminating plastic pollution, she ”would love to see stronger language in future iterations” of the city code.

With this ordinance, Monterey joins cities like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Malibu in passing restrictions on the use of single-use disposable plastic for restaurants.