In the city’s latest effort to prohibit single-use plastics, the Burbank City Council tabled an ordinance that would ban the use or distribution of single-use plastic straws and utensils made of polystyrene, instead asking city staff to reach out to the business community in a revised ordinance to be discussed by September.
Since 2008, the city of Burbank has set goals to protect its residents and the environment from the negative impacts of disposable food ware items. Since then, the state passed several laws in support of plastic reduction.
“Disposable food ware items — including cups, bowls, plates, containers, utensils, straws, cup lids, napkins, and drink stirrers and plugs — contribute to street litter, ocean pollution and lead to wildlife harm,” said Ken Berkman, Public Works director, during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Polystyrene, a plastic used to make Styrofoam, is slow to degrade and can leak toxic chemicals into the environment if it’s not safely discarded. The County of Los Angeles has already passed a similar ordinance to go into effect in May.
In July 2019, the City Council directed staff to develop a plan to prohibit the use of disposables at city facilities and events and create an ordinance to increase plastics diversion from the landfill.
While developing the single-use plastics reduction policy, the COVID-19 pandemic sharply increased the demand for takeout food options. In spring 2020, the city paused the development of a single-use plastics reduction ordinance to avoid adding excessive burdens on restaurants and consumers during the pandemic.
In 2022, the state passed Assembly Bill 1276, which prohibits food businesses from providing any single-use food ware accessories or standard condiments to a customer unless requested by the customer.
An ordinance proposed to the City Council by city planning staff on Tuesday would create city mechanisms to enforce AB 1276, per the requirements of the law, and also go beyond the state’s mandates by banning plastic food ware and accessories to further reduce single-use plastic use.
“This ordinance will be a cultural shift in how we act in the city of Burbank. … We feel the 15 months from the time of adoption to the time of enforcement is sufficient for staff to conduct significant outreach and education efforts for the businesses to make this transition,” said Berkman.
But the City Council felt that outreach to local businesses was insufficient.
“How many people really know about this? How many businesses?” said Councilwoman Zizette Mullins, pointing out that city staff did not adequately reach out to businesses to ascertain their needs for such a transition. “I would have liked to have seen the businesses in this survey tell us exactly what they need from us and how we can help them. I feel that what we are about to do to these businesses is to exclude them from the conversation. We need to treat them like our partners.”
“I don’t think anyone disagrees that we need to go green. It will benefit everybody in the long run, but it’s just coming at the worst time possible,” said Beatriz Porto, owner of the popular Porto’s Bakery and Café chain in Burbank, in an address to the City Council on Tuesday. “We’re having such a hard time sourcing alternatives. How do you get all of this stuff to your store if you can’t even find alternatives, and how do you get rid of your existing inventory?”
In a city survey that queried 71 business owners and managers, about 65% said they already implement best practices to reduce the use of single-use items. About half said a single-use plastic food ware ban would create a hardship for their business. Half of the respondents also said additional training and resources would be required to make staff compliant with new ordinances.
Ultimately, the City Council decided to revisit the ordinance, asking staff to return to council by September with a new proposed ordinance that includes input from the business community and the Sustainability Commission, among other revisions suggested by the council.
City staff will spend the next several months reaching out to local businesses and stakeholders to understand limitations and provide education. Then, staff plans to return to the City Council with an updated ordinance.
First published in the March 18 print issue of the Burbank Leader.