SALINAS – Citing numerous studies indicating the breadth of environmental damage caused by single-use plastics – common in restaurant take-out products – the Monterey County Supervisors Tuesday afternoon will consider banning their use.
If passed, an ordinance banning the use of single-use plastic will join a groundswell of restrictions by cities, counties and the state. The state has enacted Senate Bill 1046 set to take effect Jan. 1, 2025 that will ban all single-use plastic bags provided prior to checkout at food stores. The most common of these are the plastic bags used in produce sections.
Los Angeles County has already banned single-use plastics anywhere in the unincorporated area of the county.
A staff report prepared by the Monterey County Health Department, which will be the county agency enforcing the ban, if passed, lists stark facts about the environmental damage caused by single-use products. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is a sensitive marine habitat that is being heavily impacted by single-use plastics.
“Plastic waste is polluting the marine environment,” the staff report reads. “80% of marine litter comes from land-based sources, and according to the 2011 Clean Water Action Study, 67% of litter in commercial streets is comprised of single-use disposable food and beverage packaging.”
Tiny particles of plastic have been found everywhere — from the deepest place on the planet, the Mariana Trench, to the top of Mount Everest. Studies are finding that microplastics, defined as plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters across, are also in our bodies, according to the March issue of ScienceNews.
It’s a local problem. UC Santa Cruz researchers examined how much microplastic is present in the Monterey Bay and some of its inhabitants, and found that the tiny pieces of plastic pollution are not only prevalent in the water, but also in the fish and seabirds they studied. (https://www.montereyherald.com/2022/11/18/study-finds-widespread-occurrence-of-microplastic-in-monterey-bay/)
“Monterey County is home to unique environmental resources, including the (sanctuary) and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve,” the staff report reads. “Plastics that enter these and other coastal habitats of Monterey County can cause ingestion or entanglement, adversely affecting sensitive species that inhabit these coastal and marine environments, including leatherback sea turtles, seals, fish, sea otters and bird species.”
A study by eight different universities in eight different countries presents strong evidence of the health hazards of these plastics (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969723031522#s0005)
The ban would affect an estimated 600 food providers in unincorporated Monterey County, including restaurants and hotels.
Business interests came out strong against the Los Angeles County ban, including the American Chemical Council, the California Restaurant Association and the California Chamber of Commerce. Yet affordably priced non-plastic products are available to food providers to comply with the regulations of the ordinance, according to the county staff report.
There is also an economic consideration. The collection of plastic litter and the disposal of plastic waste results in direct costs to the county in the form of personnel time, equipment usage and disposal fees.
And any cost to the county will ultimately be a cost to taxpayers.
Readers can view the meeting on Zoom at https://montereycty.zoom.us/j/224397747, or in-person at 168 W. Alisal St., 1st Floor, Salinas. The meeting portion containing the proposed single-use plastics ban begins at 1:30 p.m.
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