Foam container ban will expand to plastic straws, retail sales after City Council vote

Long Beach’s ban on Styrofoam and similar foam containers will soon apply to retail sales and expand to include plastic straws after the City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to amend an ordinance it adopted in 2018.

The April 2018 ordinance was implemented with a phased-in approach with larger businesses being impacted first and smaller ones, like restaurants with less than 100 seats, being hit last. The final phase of that ordinance went into effect in December, but the City Council requested in October that revisions be made to include plastic straws and other materials.

Under the new ordinance, plastic straws could be banned in Long Beach as soon as March. And a ban on retail sales of Styrofoam-like products such as polystyrene egg holders, meat trays sold in grocery stores and packing peanuts used to protect fragile items during deliveries could begin as soon as October.

California already banned plastic straws statewide in 2019, but that law applied to only restaurants. There were exemptions for to-go drinks, and sit-down restaurants could still provide the plastic straws when customers requested them. Long Beach’s ordinance would go a step further and ban establishments from providing plastic straws almost entirely.

Diko Melkonian, the city’s environmental services manager, said that an exemption would be included in the ordinance for those who need straws as a necessity to be able to drink their beverage. What those straws should be made of is up to the business.

Recently elected Councilwoman Mary Zendejas, who uses a wheelchair, praised the exemption for people with disabilities.

“As a person with a disability that can’t lift up a cup or glass to drink from, I thank you again for all those that are out there in my same situation who don’t have the necessary strength to pick up a cup and drink from it, especially when it’s full,” Zendejas said.

Some businesses like Starbucks, which announced it would phase out straws in 2018, have proactively traded in their signature green straws for lids with sippers on them. After the passage of the amended ordinance, others will either have to follow suit or find an alternative to plastic straw.

“It’s really up to them,” Melkonian said. “We’re trying not to suggest that they use any one particular product, just that it not be plastic. Some restaurants are even offering paper straws or you can buy a metal reusable straw and just keep it for yourself.”

When it comes to the foam ban, the existing ordinance has slowly forced businesses throughout the city to transition to alternatives as the phased-in law slowly took hold. Many to-go orders, which were traditionally plated in foam clamshells are now packaged in wax-lined cardboard boxes.

Mayor Robert Garcia, a self-described avid user of food-delivery services, said that he has seen the impact the city’s ban on polystyrene—the generic term for Styrofoam—has had. The addition of plastic straws to the ban should not be that difficult of a transition for businesses, he said.

“I’ve seen the change that has happened in the last year from some of my favorite places that I just did not like that they still used polystyrene,” Garcia said. “And now they’ve all converted to paper or another product and it’s really great.”

Tuesday’s vote was the first of two procedural votes with the second being scheduled for the City Council’s Feb. 11 meeting. After that, it typically takes about 30 days after the mayor signs a non-emergency ordinance into law for it to become effective.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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