News

With bans on straws, produce bags, Palo Alto seeks to curb plastic waste

City Council passes new bans on plastic foodware items, targets further restrictions next year

Palo Alto sharply escalated its war on plastic waste Monday night, when the City Council passed a ban on straws, utensils, produce bags and other single-use items that routinely bypass the sorting process and end up in the creeks.

In addition, the council declared its intent to advance next year additional laws requiring food establishments to charge customers for single-use cups and to only offer reusable foodware for dining in.

By a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Tom DuBois absent, the council approved restrictions that will put the city in the vanguard of a growing number of municipalities looking to cut back on plastic use. Chuck Muir, manager of the environmental control program in the Public Works Department, said the new regulations make Palo Alto the first city in the South Bay to prohibit single-use plastic foodware items (San Francisco and Malibu have similar restrictions in place). They would also make Palo Alto the first city in the Bay Area to ban plastic produce bags from grocery stores and farmers markets.

The new rules will take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

City officials have been exploring restrictions on plastic since at least 2016, when the City Council adopted its first Sustainability/Climate Action Plan. A major component of the plan is the Zero Waste Policy, which the council adopted in 2018 and which sets a goal of diverting 95% of the city's waste from landfills by 2030.

The ban on straws picked up momentum a year ago, thanks to a coordinated campaign by the city and Girl Scout Troop #60016, which conducted outreach to local restaurants and received commitments from more than three dozen of them to only offer plastic straws upon request. In response, the council declared May 2018 as "plastic straw awareness month."

On Monday, with the Girl Scoop troop and dozens of other residents in attendance, an enthusiastic council agreed that the city should do what it can to reduce plastic waste.

"We're here because single-use plastic is polluting our environment on an unprecedented scale and unfortunately this is only predicted to increase," said resident Gloria Garcia, who represented a group of residents requesting new regulations on plastic.

While no one spoke against the new restrictions, Garcia and others made the case that the city isn't going far — or fast — enough. Public Works staff had proposed adopting new restrictions in three phases, with the first phase covering plastic straws, utensils, drink stirrers and plastic produce bags. Future phases would include all disposable plastic foodware — initially for dining in (phase two) and ultimately for takeout (phase three). The second phase will also entail charging customers for non-reusable cups and containers.

Under staff's proposed timeline, the second phase would begin in 2021 and the third phase wouldn't launch until 2025.

Miriam Gordon, California director for the nonprofit Clean Water Action, was one of several speakers who requested that the council move faster and adopt all three phases immediately.

"If this is the plan, why not put the things in the ordinance now?" Gordon asked. "It would be a good idea to give business notice — that these things are coming."

Some on the council shared her sense of urgency. Councilwoman Alison Cormack said she'd like to see the city move faster on some of the proposals, specifically charging residents for single-use cups. The restriction, she noted, has the advantage of getting customers — as well as businesses — involved in changing behavior.

"There's a proposal for 25 cents. That might make people rethink whether or not they want to remember to bring their reusable cup," Cormack said.

While others agreed that such a policy is laudable, Assistant Public Works Director Phil Bobel said the city needs more time to create a system for charging.

The only quibbles came over the details. Stanford Health Care and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford requested that the new laws exempt patient rooms, an exception that city staff agreed to make (the hospitals would still be required to comply with the regulations in their cafeterias and other common dining areas).

Ryan Globus, a Midtown resident whose mother is quadriplegic, suggested that the ban on plastic straws consider people with disabilities, many of whom depend on plastic straws at restaurants. Rather than banning them, the city should make plastic straws only available upon request, Globus suggested in an email.

"Compostable straws slowly dissolve and become ineffective within minutes. As my mother depends on someone else to hold the drink near her for her to drink via straw, it can take her 30 or more minutes to finish a drink, which is too long for a compostable straw," Globus wrote.

While the new law does not make an exception for residents with disabilities, Bobel said staff will address this concern when it creates regulations for enforcing the new ordinance.

Ultimately, the council agreed to follow staff's recommendations and adopt only the first of three phases. In addition to the bans on plastic utensils and plastic produce bags (businesses would still be allowed to offer compostable bags, which some already do), the new rules also require businesses to provide receipts only upon request.

The passage of the ordinance was never in doubt. After hearing from the Girl Scouts and lauding their leadership, the council moved ahead with adopting the foodware ordinance. Councilwoman Liz Kniss called the new ordinance an "incredible step" in the city's environmental efforts. Mayor Eric Filseth agreed.

"I think we can live without plastic straws," Filseth said.

Hear Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines," now available on our YouTube channel and podcast page.

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Comments

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 8:48 am

I am quite concerned about the health implications of this.

Can people be trusted not to use dirty reusables or worse contaminate things like shopping carts and fruit and veg, door handles, etc. Will people really clean use their reusable cups before refilling them at Starbucks?

Interesting that there's no talk about banning plastic gloves for food preparation and health workers. But of course, that would be a health issue!

Perhaps we should start using plastic gloves to touch our fruit and veggies!


14 people like this
Posted by propaganda farms
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 9:02 am

> Can people be trusted not to use dirty reusables or worse contaminate things like shopping carts and fruit and veg, door handles, etc.

What did your parents do before rolls of plastic bags showed up in grocery stores? Were they sick a lot? No, of course not.

I recall a factoid from 20 years ago - fruits and veggies in a store are touched on average by 8 people.

Perhaps someone can give us the viewpoint of the American Chemical Society in response?


5 people like this
Posted by pakin
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2019 at 10:45 am

pakin is a registered user.

Future take-out plastic contains ban is a bridge too far.


7 people like this
Posted by Deb
a resident of University South
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:07 am

Deb is a registered user.

I remember the rise of plastic and plastic disposables and, as a child, being horrified. I have no idea why my New York Times and Mercury News subscriptions come in plastic bags. During rain, I can understand. But the rest of the year? This is nuts. You can't get rid of plastic.

What upsets me the most has been the proliferation of plastic bags for carrying purchases. This is 100% unnecessary. I don't think we will ever rid ourselves of the plastic take out food clamshells, but just about everything else, yes.

What used to be used all the time was waxed paper. Worked great. As for utensils, I carry a couple small, bamboo sporks in my fanny pack or purse or pocket. No need for plastic utensils when I get take out.


2 people like this
Posted by chip
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:08 am

Here's an easy & effective solution for Ryan Globus et al:
Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by chip
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:20 am

@ resident -
Trader Joe's, Target, Bianchini, & Whole Food provide sanitizing wipes for hands, carts, etc, as well as an adjacent receptacle for disposal of the used ones. Consider using these if you're concerned about health implications of a plastics ban.

Door handles? What do you do now when you meet a door handle? Most grocery stores have automatic doors with no handles.


5 people like this
Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:50 am

Staff and City Council,

Thank you for taking a huge step forward on reducing unnecessary plastics! Hip hip hurray. And a big shout out to the Girl Scouts who led the way — you are our environmental heroes. Let’s hope our neighboring cities follow closely behind. I love our planet.


8 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2019 at 11:57 am

When you get order soup or soup or food not eaten it is taken home in single serving cartons or plastic containers. When you buy homemade soup from Safeway or Whole Foods you take it home in a single serving container. often take plastic spoons or forks with it.

This initiative is complete nonsense. [Portion removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by propaganda farms
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 12:22 pm

> half of them are single people without children or disabilities
> California should require

Falsehoods. So many of these claims that are unsubstantiated usually are wrong. Wrong with numbers, wrong everywhere.


For California SNAP:
- 73% of SNAP participants are in families with children
- 11% are in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities
- 48% are in working families

Source: CBPP analysis of data from USDA Food and Nutrition Service, FY 2017


4 people like this
Posted by @jerry99
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 11, 2019 at 12:25 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Another Questionable Giveaway At CA Tax-Payer Expense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 11, 2019 at 12:42 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 1:03 pm

Back in the day before plastic wrapped packages of raw meat, meat was wrapped by a butcher in wax paper and butcher paper. There was no leakage of juices into shopping carts because they didn't exist. If my memory serves me, doors were left open too so nobody needed to touch them.

Yes most grocery stores have automatic doors, but restrooms, offices, and smaller stores still have door handles that need to be touched.

Also produce used to be bagged by staff, now we touch our own produce before purchasing.

Cross contamination is going to be problematic.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 11, 2019 at 1:41 pm

This is Big Government on crack. Too much money, staff, time on their hands. By doing this they could not make a better argument that we need to start heading in a libertarian direction. [Portion removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 11, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Phil, what should;d I do with my cat Dirt?


15 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 11, 2019 at 2:43 pm

I don't understand what the restriction of plastic bags, straws, and utensils has to do with doors to offices, small stores, and )restrooms. I'm not familiar with any customary use of plastics to open those doors.
1) Most offices don't sell food.
2) Most people wash their hands after using the loo & use a paper towel or loo paper to grasp a door handle or knob.
3) Smaller stores? What, like 7-11, where most food is pre-packaged? People worried about public health issues from contaminate food probably don't eat from 7-11 anyway. Have you ever watched the employees load or "clean" those mini-ovens & grills? Thought not.

Btw, the re-usable silicon straws shown in the earlier posted web link are great. They even have their own little cleaning brushes & carrying case. Perfect for mobility-impaired diners & those who don't like paper straws. There are different kinds from which to choose.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:02 pm

Chip

I am concerned about cross contamination of meat juices, etc. from grocery wrapped packages of meat. Safeway et al know they will leak which is why they put the plastic bags beside the meat displays. Customers will put packages into carts and the juice will leak onto the carts and then they will get juice on their hands and touch veg.

When this contamination is on customers hands, they will then go touch almost anything else in the store and cross contamination will occur. The belts on the grocery checkouts are another place for cross contamination.

Unless our meat is better packaged in butcher paper, we are going to have to contend with a lot more problems.

Perhaps we should all wear plastic gloves to do our grocery shopping.

I am not talking about personal hygiene, but I am worried about cross contamination in grocery stores. The office and restrooms were the ones the public use in the grocery stores. If you get it on your hands and have to get to a sink to wash it off, you are going to touch the handles of the restroom doors.


Posted by Palo Alto leading the way
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Jun 11, 2019 at 4:24 pm


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1 person likes this
Posted by Illuminato
a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2019 at 9:51 am

Have you ever tried to suck a milkshake through a paper straw? They get soggy and collapse. You have to drink it without the straw. Probably the whole reason they came up with plastic straws in the first place.


4 people like this
Posted by Agreed
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 12, 2019 at 10:02 am

^^^^A good point. It is also very difficult to stir a thick milkshake with a paper straw.

As a result, we will continue to need plastic straws for both milkshakes and cocktails.

These enviro-fanatic types should be focusing their mental energies something far more productive.


5 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2019 at 5:32 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I think more important would be to lobby for Apple and them to be responsible for used and "obsolete" cell phones and iPads, rather than going to landfill and leeking toxics. Things could be made in a way that parts are reusable, last longer or are less toxic as waste.

There are 5Gs but also 3Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle.


8 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2019 at 1:05 pm

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 14, 2019 at 1:18 pm

This is great news!! Do not get distracted by the exception cases, let’s move forward and we will figure it out.


Like this comment
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 17, 2019 at 5:48 pm

resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2019 at 12:22 pm

> half of them are single people without children or disabilities

Actual Data- For US 34% of Food Stamp participants are children,11% are elderly or are disabled. California has 9.6 MILLION Residents on some sort of Government welfare program, more than 25%.
Does not matter if any of these are "working families" the Food Stamp people make up less than 50% of workers and able bodied people can work to improve their lives so the US taxpayer can use the money for other programs. Also data does not include all the Section 8 housing US subsidies.

Falsehoods. So many of these claims that are unsubstantiated usually are wrong. Wrong with numbers, wrong everywhere.

For California SNAP:
- 73% of SNAP participants are in families with children
- 11% are in families with members who are elderly or have disabilities
- 48% are in working families


Like this comment
Posted by Jerry00
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 17, 2019 at 5:53 pm

Skip the paragraph on the bottom starting with
Falsehoods
It was submitted by someone else without the current data on SNAP.


6 people like this
Posted by @jerry99
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 17, 2019 at 6:12 pm

Ever heard of the saying, "When you are digging yourself into a hole, stop digging?"

Of course you didn't.


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