Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Carp considers ban on plastic products


Plastic bags and Styrofoam might be outlawed in Carpinteria by the end of the year after city leaders voted unanimously to put together an ordinance banning those products at a meeting earlier this week.
Councilmember Al Clark led the charge, arguing that a voluntary ban or more educational programs would not create enough of an incentive for residents to start using reusable shopping bags.

“It’s going to be a long-term process and people have to be very motivated,” he said. “So I think we have to do something more than just good wishes and smiles on our face.”
A presentation from the Santa Barbara City College Sustainability Workshop last year sparked the discussion, focusing on the negative environmental impacts of plastic shipping bags and expanded polystyrene (known as EPS or Styrofoam) food containers.
In addition to constituting a large source of litter, staff reported that the plastic products are harmful to marine and human life, and are not recyclable. In response to those issues, 11 cities have banned Styrofoam in California and two others have outlawed plastic bags.
However, staff recommended against enacting a ban on Styrofoam until the city has a viable food composting program in place to process alternative biodegradable containers. Due to current legislation pending against cities with plastic bag bans, staff also suggested moving that option to the back burner for the time being.
“Staff recommends waiting to allow clarity on some of the legal issues,” administrative intern Kat McCormick told the council.
As alternatives to an outright ban, city staff suggested banning those materials on city property and at city functions, or creating an educational program for the community promoting the use of reusable bags and containers.
As the council began deliberations, they appeared to be heading in that direction.
“I’m a firm believer in education and one step at a time,” Councilmember Brad Stein said, proposing to institute a voluntary city ban and educational project while deferring a decision on a mandatory ban.
But Clark took issue with that approach, contending that the city already has a voluntary ban in that any community member can choose whether or not to use plastic shopping bags.
“We already have it and it doesn’t work,” he said. “…I don’t see any reason why we can’t ban the bags.”
As the discussion continued, Vice Mayor Gregg Carty added his voice to Clark’s in advocating for a citywide prohibition.
“These bags break down into little particles and they are finding them in everything, even in humans,” he said. “It’s scary and we need to get away from it and do what we can as soon as we can.”
Several community members also stepped forward during the council hearing to lobby for a ban, including Natasha Lohmus, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game, who said spotting plastic products in creeks and along the coast is a common occurrence.
“I see as many as beer cans, and that’s quite a lot,” she said.
Plastic bags are particularly troubling, Lohmus said, because once they wash out to sea, they resemble jellyfish and often wind up blocking the intestinal tracts of marine creatures who make the mistake of wolfing them down.
“These things have a very detrimental effect on wildlife besides just being ugly,” she said.
Representatives of Carpinteria Beautiful, a nonprofit community group that supports environmental cleanup efforts, also spoke in favor of a ban and passed out reusable shopping bags to city staff and councilmembers.
“It’s a really important issue for the community, especially being a coastal community,” said Donna Jordan, cofounder of the group. She urged the council to subscribe to a “think globally, act locally” mentality.
“If we wait for the higher-ups to get their act together, we may be waiting a long time.”
Ultimately, the council voted 4-0 in favor of directing staff to put together a draft ordinance that would ban plastic bags and Styrofoam in Carpinteria by the end of this year. They also directed the city attorney to keep an eye on the current litigation involving plastic bag bans in other cities — a decision is pending for the city of Oakland — and to determine the level of environmental review that will be needed with such an ordinance.
Kathi King, a member of the SBCC Sustainability Workshop that proposed the bans last summer, said the decision is a good first step.
“I think it’s a good laboratory, a city the size of Carpinteria,” she said. “…We just have to start helping people make attitudinal and behavioral changes.”
She suggested writing a reminder on grocery lists to bring reusable bags. And she also warned against simply switching to paper bags, an issue also addressed by city staff.
King and McCormick both explained that paper bags, while better for the environment if discarded improperly, are bulky and take up more space at landfills. They are also labor-intensive to make and transport.
“So let’s ban those also,” Clark responded. “It’s not that we don’t want people to use a certain kind of bag. It’s that we want people to use recyclable bags.”
City manager Dave Durflinger said he expects the draft ordinance will return to the council in 45 to 60 days. In the meantime, he said staff plans to keep an eye on legal proceedings and look into the level of environmental review required.


Anonymous said...

Good for Carpinteria for stepping out front on this!

I hope the Santa Barbara City Council is listening!

Anonymous said...

I hope the city council will also tuck me in and tell me a bedtime story.