First published in the March 26 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
By Mark Kellam
Glendale city officials on Tuesday approved taking another step in their efforts to reduce the amount of single-use plastic items in the community and directed city staff to create a third ordinance regarding the issue.
“We want to continue a trend to reduce plastic waste and what occurs from plastic waste being generated,” said David Jones, the city’s sustainability officer.
A survey was recently distributed, which highlighted that, among other things, there are challenges to reducing waste regarding on-premise and off-premise dining. It showed that 70% of those surveyed had dish-washing equipment on-site, a key factor to incorporate reusable food ware into the business.
Respondents also said that for on-premise dining, straws, portion cups, utensils, plates and bowls were used significantly.
The city has passed two previous ordinances regarding single-use plastic items. The first, passed last April, focused on city-sponsored events and moved away from single-use plastics and started using marine-degradable items.
Then, in September, an ordinance was passed that mandated customers to specifically ask for disposable items when making take-out orders.
“Those items are not provided to you automatically,” Jones said.
The new phase of the program would expand previous efforts. The staff recommended that the sale and distribution of plastic utensils, stirring sticks and straws be prohibited.
“Alternatives exist, such as wooden stirrers, wood utensil sets, paper or edible straws,” he said.
Staff also recommended stopping the sale or distribution of any meat, fish or poultry trays or egg cartons made entirely or partially of polystyrene.
“Again, there are alternatives available,” he said.
In addition, staff members recommended any regulated entity discontinue the use of plastic packing materials, including foam peanuts or popcorn.
Regarding on-premise dining, any regulated entity must serve food using reuseable items, and they would not be able to provide single-use condiment packs, such as for ketchup or mustard.
Looking ahead to 2023 and beyond, staff recommended that no person or regulated entity can use any polystyrene food service ware or sell polystyrene coolers and no city employee or contractor while working for the city or in a contract situation with the city can distribute water in plastic bottles.
Regarding why the new items are being discussed now and not earlier, Jones said, is that staff knew the first ordinance would be difficult to implement and would require educational outreach. They foresee the new ordinance as being easier to enact once the first two ordinances reach compliance.
In terms of enforcement, staff members feel they cannot take on that task at this time, Jones said.
“Staff is acquiring data from other cities to determine resource requirements and to see what options are ahead,” he said.
Other enforcement options include asking regulated establishments to self-certify that they are compliant with ordinances as part of the business registration and certification process.
Another option being considered is reaching an agreement with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to check enforcement through its food inspection program. Another option is to only enforce the ordinance when complaints are received.
The primary impacts on businesses will be the sourcing of alternative products and pricing issues, Jones said.
Councilman Vrej Agajanian pointed to a report that showed that wooden utensils will be much more expensive for business owners.
Jones responded, “Plastic utensils are very, very cheap. The alternative ones have a higher cost price, but… there is your packs of utensils, so your fork, your knife and your spoon, wrapped with napkin. In doing further research, we found that, if you buy individual utensils, wooden or alternative utensils, compared to plastic, they are closer to the plastics in price points,” Jones said.
He added that paper, or fiber-based, egg cartons are actually cheaper than plastic cartons.
Councilman Ardy Kassakhian suggested the city look at providing some assistance for small businesses that may be challenged financially to meet any changes, particularly as everyone comes out of COVID restrictions.
Councilman Dan Brotman said many of the businesses affected by the ordinance could have hardship waivers and could get leeway on certain matters.
However, when Pasadena passed its polystyrene ordinance a few years ago, he asked how many hardship waivers had been approved and “there were almost none,” he said.
He added that the city will probably face some short-term consequences as officials help business owners find alternative sources. However, he said he didn’t think the changes would have long-term financial consequences.
In California, 150 cities have implemented similar ordinances regarding single-use plastic items, Jones said. The Glendale ordinance is slightly more “progressive” than most of those ordinances, he added.
Brotman said he would like city officials to consider adding a 25-cent-per-cup fee that restaurants would charge and get to keep, just like the charge for bags at grocery stores. That is contained in a similar ordinance that is also being considered in Burbank. It would be one way to save on some of the costs, he said.
Agajanian noted he had concerns about requiring small businesses to install dishwashers because of the expense and length of time associated with the installation.
Jones said restaurants most often have sinks and those would be expected to be used if a restaurant cannot afford a dishwasher.
Mayor Paula Devine said the ordinance will create some challenges: “The thing about the environmental mitigations that we’re proposing, you know, it’s never easy and it’s not inexpensive. It just seems like that’s the way it is and there’s always a faction that’s impacted in a negative way.”
She also said she supports providing financial assistance to those who will suffer the most and she supports phasing in the program.
Jones said that city officials plan to conduct an outreach campaign to contact restaurant owners and will hold round table events to discuss the issue and how to reach compliance with the ordinance. Devine added that the city needs to make sure the permitting process is fast for those wanting to install dishwashers.
“The environment is very important, and I think we have to do our best to develop an ordinance that is suitable for our community and acceptable to our restaurants and food facilitators,” Devine said.