Plastic Pollution
November 19 2019

A Small Town Pushes for Big Change

by Ximena Waissbluth, Monterey County Chapter Coordinator

Nestled between the tiny town of Carmel-by-the-Sea and the popular tourist destination of Monterey lies quaint and quiet Pacific Grove (PG), known for its monarch sanctuary, 'magic carpet' (see photo), and otter coves. Last week, PG upped the ante on the region's rolling plastics reduction ordinances; one after another these Central Coast California cities have been passing ordinances aimed at limiting waste via source reduction.  

About a decade ago, most of the cities on the Central Coast banned plastic bags and Styrofoam to-go containers, but as the problem of single-use plastic pollution has snowballed in size and complexity, so has the unmistakable need to continue reassessing prevailing regulations and practices. Concerned citizens, environmental groups, businesses, city council members - an array of stakeholders have been involved and engaged in the process. Here is a drill down into the nitty gritty of the latest developments: 

In 2017 Carmel paved the way by amending their plastic bag/Stryofoam ban ordinance to include:

  • banning plastic straws (PLA plastic allowed)
  • banning petroleum-based plastics from dine-in services ('compostable' PLA plastic allowed)
  • banning food service to-go ware with the recycling symbol of plastic #6 (which is a popularly utilized, cheap, light, yet potentially toxic and effectively unrecyclable type of plastic).

In 2018 Monterey followed with a similar but stronger ordinance to include the above plus:

  • banning petro-plastic and PLA straws (paper/pasta/reusable only)
  • banning all disposables from dine-in services, including PLA (a key criteria in Ocean Friendly Restaurants!)
  • banning food service to-go ware with the recycling symbol of plastic #3, #4, #5, #6 (with the idea that plastics #1 and #2 are the most commonly recycled resins on the market).

And now, in 2019, Pacific Grove has gone the extra mile to include the above, plus:

  • banning all petro-plastics for to-go containers and cups (BPI certified compostable only - this specific provision was encouraged by the Surfrider Monterey County Chapter, citing the importance of certification/quality control as detailed in the San Francisco ordinance)
  • banning all petro-plastic bags - including for restaurants, dry cleaners and  grocers, including bags for produce/bulk/meat/wet items in grocery stores (BPI certified compostable only)
  • paper bags to be 100% post consumer waste recycled
  • banning single-use toiletries from lodging establishments (the state of CA passed this as well, but it won't take effect until 2023)

The most progressive provisions in the PG ban are that all bag film, including dry cleaning bags and produce/bulk dispenser bags, are included.  Dry cleaners will be given an extra year because compostable plastic dry cleaning bags are currently difficult to source. The city council was not swayed by the dry cleaners' pleas that they be exempt, arguing that the market will diversify to fill the needs resulting from these bans. The same applies to the paper bags, 100% post-consumer waste paper bags are more expensive and harder to find, most stores carry 40% PCW bags, but again, a forward thinking council held firm - "let's help push the market."  

Surfrider was at the table every step of the way in PG, meeting with city staffers to comment and give suggestions on the various ordinance iterations as it morphed over 18 months to become a truly model ordinance for the rest of Central California cities which are also eyeing their plastic reduction ordinances.  A huge thanks goes to our activists and to our Peninsula Plastics Coalition members - including the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Sustainable Pacific Grove - for a great and successful partnership. A small town perhaps, but one by one, victory by victory, real progress is being made at reducing our dependence on single-use plastics, and the beauty is, these victories scale up.

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