The City Council banned Styrofoam containers in 2018, but only now will start cracking down on businesses that are violating the law.

City officials said they have focused efforts over the past six years on educating businesses, but come this June will begin investigating complaints and issuing fines.

Some residents are perplexed as to why it’s taken so long.

“It’s great to pat yourself on the back for a great law, but with zero enforcement, why would anybody care?” Paul Buchanan, the owner of a local catering business, told a committee of the City Council Tuesday.

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Joshua Hickman, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, told the Climate, Environment and Coastal Protection Committee that the lack of enforcement is due to a combination of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the current struggle the city is having with hiring staff.

“We were in a different world in 2018,” he said, adding that, “We will do our best to follow this process — it will be a new process — to do enforcement.”

Officials said that since 2020, they have received 68 complaints about businesses not adhering to the ban on Styrofoam take-out containers, plastic cups, foam ice chests and bean bags or craft items made with polystyrene beads. The ordinance also prohibited giving out straws and plastic utensils unless requested.

The city at the time adopted a phased approach, with city facilities expected to comply first, followed by large restaurants and then smaller restaurants within 18 months of the law’s passage.

The city expanded the ban to retail stores and plastic straws in 2020.

But Buchanan and others said big-box stores and businesses including fine dining establishments are still flouting city law, while others in the food industry are bearing the expense of making the shift to protect the environment.

“You’ve given plenty of concessions to businesses,” he said, “now you need to enforce it.”

Beginning this June, if a violation is confirmed, the Public Works Department will issue a 30-day correction notification to the business.

After that period, officials will visit the site, and if the business is still in violation, an administrative citation will be issued for $105 on the first violation, $210 on the second violation and $525 for subsequent violations — which can be assessed daily at that point.

Councilmember Kristina Duggan, who is chair of the committee, said that “should provide some incentive” for businesses to abide by the law.

Public Works staff said they will also continue to send educational materials to all businesses that are affected by the law.

“I would say we really want folks to be in compliance,” Hickman said. “That is our goal.”

The council committee asked for a report back on enforcement progress in six months.

Melissa Evans is the Chief Executive Officer of the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal. Reach her at [email protected], @melissaevansLBP or 562-512-6354.