First published in the Dec. 3 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
By Alexandra Applegate
In the city’s latest effort to prohibit single-use plastics, the City Council directed staff to develop an ordinance eliminating any use or distribution of polystyrene, single-use plastic straws and utensils as well as establish a disposable cup charge at Glendale businesses.
With the council’s approval at the latest meeting in November, staff will spend the next several months reaching out to local businesses and stakeholders to understand limitations and provide education. Then, staff plans to return to the council with an ordinance in April 2023 for adoption, just in time for Earth Day.
“We have been a leader, thanks to this council, moving in this right direction to do what’s best for the planet, what’s best for the residents and what’s best for the environment,” said Mayor Ardy Kassakhian.
If approved in April, the polystyrene ban would go into effect immediately. The city would no longer allow its businesses and local vendors to use polystyrene food ware, coolers, packing materials such as packing peanuts, egg cartons or disposable utensils.
“Polystyrene products are really hard to recover in the recycling system and there’s no real recycling program for them,” said sustainability officer David Jones during the meeting.
Polystyrene, a form of styrofoam, is slow to degrade and can leak toxic chemicals into the environment if it’s not safely discarded. The County of Los Angeles has already passed a similar ordinance to go into effect next May, and the city of Los Angeles is also considering a polystyrene ban this month.
Additionally, the other aspects of the ordinance would take effect 12 months later, leaving time for staff to help local businesses reach compliance.
Businesses would no longer hand out single-use plastic straws, stirrers or utensils, adding to the ban of disposable food ware accessories, which passed in September 2021. Any disposable straws or utensils will be required to be made from non-plastic materials, such as paper or wood. And businesses must offer reusable plates, trays and silverware for people dining on the premise.
The ordinance would also establish disposable food ware standards for all of the city’s businesses and vendors, so any takeout packaging would be made from materials easily recycled in the city’s collection programs.
“This is so good for the environment,” said Councilwoman Paula Devine. “It’s a step toward sustainability and clean air. It’s great for our community, our residents and our businesses.”
The council discussed the 25 cent fee for disposable cups, which would act similarly to the plastic ban charge the state of California implemented in 2017, and the prohibition of single-use plastic water bottles at city-sponsored events and internal operations.
Councilman Ara Najarian pushed back on these particular items. He said it was unrealistic to ask residents to bring in their own cups to avoid the charge and worried about the logistics of city events without water bottles. He was the only council member to vote down the motion.
However, the council decided to move forward with all of the staff’s recommendations.
“We’re trying to eliminate throwaway items of all kinds. It’s hard to do,” said Councilman Daniel Brotman. “All we’re saying is that they have to pay a quarter, and that’s going to encourage some number of people to bring their own cup. And that’s a good thing.”
A few of the council members were concerned about enforcement, looking to avoid heavily fining local businesses that may not have the knowledge or finances to move away from single-use plastics and polystyrene. Staff recommended local establishments self-certify they are complying with the regulations, and enforcement be driven by complaints, rather than regular code enforcement.
“I just want what we do to be accepted by the community without any animosity or hostilities and for it to be very practical and usable,” Najarian said.
The council members suggested city staff act as ambassadors for small businesses or immigrant-run businesses, who may speak languages other than English, ensuring business owners would be aware of the ordinance and their alternate packaging options.
The city will also establish a process for businesses to receive an exemption from some or all of the requirements if they show compliance would cause an “undue hardship” or limit food safety standards.
Staff will now begin outreach efforts and begin assembling an ordinance for the council’s consideration next spring.