Long Beach marine life can rejoice as Mayor Robert Garcia officially signed into law a citywide-ban of polystyrene food-packaging containers on Friday, May 4. The material does not decay naturally over time and was blamed for polluting the beaches and waterways found along the coast of the city, according to Garcia.
The mayor, along with 1st District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez, signed the law at a public event at the Berlin Bistro coffee shop. The restaurant was one of the first eateries in the city to voluntarily eliminate polystyrene food-packaging and supported the ban when it was first proposed, according to a City press release.
The city council reviewed and ultimately adopted the law in October, and it received mayoral approval last week, making Long Beach one of the first cities in the nation to ban polystyrene.
“It often takes cities to pass the law first for the state to then act,” Garcia said. “So, we are really hopeful that other cities and states act as well. Other cities have, by the way.”
Garcia said that Long Beach has always been at the forefront of ordinances that push for environmental sustainability. As previously reported in the Signal Tribune, Garcia stood alongside Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at the port to reaffirm their commitment to the Clean Air Action Plan following the nation’s withdrawal last year from the Paris Climate Accord– a United Nations framework to reduce global greenhouse gases.
“Long Beach has always led on issues around sustainability,” Garcia said during the last week’s event, “whether it was being one of the first cities to ban single-use plastic bags [or] whether it’s been restoring the wetlands and issues around climate change.”
Three months after its adoption, the ban will first impact City departments and City-sponsored events where food might be sold or given, according to the ordinance. Nine months after adoption, food vendors that sell to-go foods, franchised restaurants with over 100 seats and prepared foods in grocery stores must follow the ban. At the 18-month mark, small businesses must comply and cease the use of polystyrene.
Garcia said that supplies are available for small-business owners as they work through the transition phase.
“The City is going to have resources for them, but the truth is, today, technology is such that the products are not that much different in cost,” he said. “There is a collective that buys all these products in bulk, and restaurants can be a part of that. The City is helping facilitate it.”
The ordinance states that the City Health and Human Services Department will help enforce the new ban. City officials will conduct regular food-facility inspections at least once per year and inspect food vendors at special events, according to an online slide-presentation of the ordinance.
Restaurants and food vendors that do not comply with the ban risk being cited.
The ban on polystyrene food-packaging material helps the City move toward a plastic-free ocean, however, there are still some non-recyclable materials the City is aware of, according to Garcia.
He said the City’s next target is plastic straws.
“I think we are going to be looking at a transition away from plastic straws, hopefully, and look toward a more recyclable type of product,” the mayor said.
Captain Charles Moore, founder of the Algalita Marine Research and Education organization, was present at the signing event. He was one of the first who made research expeditions to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch– a gyre of debris particles in the central North Pacific Ocean, is an advocate for plastic-free beaches and is an avid sailor.
His organization researches the massive island of garbage drifting in the ocean and how it impacts marine life.
“The wetlands in Long Beach are my home,” he said. “I grew up recreating in the Los Cerritos Wetlands. So, I started to care once I started to see all this litter and trash that couldn’t go away.”
At an early age, Moore began to participate in beach cleanups. In the late 1990s, he founded his marine-research organization and wrote articles on the subject of plastic polluting the ocean. He said the most common surface feature on the ocean today is plastic debris.
Moore said the amount of unrecycled waste floating out at sea has increased since the discovery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. He added that plastic can be found mixed into the ground and in some foods.
“We publish [findings] in peer-reviewed scientific journals and water board reports, and we present our data to the city council,” Moore said. “This Styrofoam ban is a small way to try to begin to compensate for a phenomenon, which is out of control.”