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Carlsbad bans single-use plastic utensils

Plastic spoons, forks, knives and straws will no longer be provided unless requested at Carlsbad food service establishments under an ordinance introduced this week.

Single-use condiment packets also will be available only upon request. Take-out food can only be taken in reusable or compostable containers. No expanded polystyrene, AKA Styrofoam, allowed.

Vista, San Marcos and Solana Beach have approved similar ordinances in recent years to ban or reduce the proliferation of single-use plastic utensils and other disposable plastic products. Reusable or compostable substitutes are encouraged.

Oceanside, Encinitas, Del Mar and San Diego have stopped distributing single-use plastic bags at grocery stores and most retail outlets. Nearly every city in the county has taken steps to reduce plastic waste.

The local and state laws are aimed at reducing the plastic pollution now found from the tops of mountains to the depths of the sea.

“Plastic pollution is everywhere, and the statistics are alarming,” said Janis Jones, a frequent visitor to Carlsbad’s beaches, in support of the ordinance at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Piles of plastic trash have been found in the arctic and in the deepest ocean trenches, she said.

Microplastics are even circulating in human blood. A study this year in the Netherlands found plastic, primarily the PET type used in disposable water bottles, in the blood of 17 of 22 participants, according to stories in the Smithsonian magazine and other publications.

“The environment and human health are at risk,” Jones said.

Despite the claims of the plastic industry, used plastic has almost no value in the recycling market, said Alex Ferron of the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, who supported the ordinance. Also, disposal efforts are costly.

“You do Carlsbad a great service in elevating the health and wealth of the community,” Ferron said.

Council members voted unanimously for the ordinance.

The city’s new rules take effect July 1 this year, and enforcement will begin July 1, 2023. Notices will be issued for the first two violations and a fine of $25 per day up to a total of $300 will be issued for subsequent violations.

Carlsbad’s new ordinance is modeled after the state’s Assembly Bill 1276, passed in 2021 and effective June 1. Also known as the “Skip the Stuff” bill, the state law requires food service establishments to provide plastic utensils, straws and condiment packets only upon request.

Carlsbad adopted a Sustainable Materials Management Plan in 2019 that charted a three-year course for reducing the use of plastics and increasing reliance on reusable or compostable materials. The city adopted an implementation plan in December 2021.

In February, the state’s Ocean Protection Council, a team of 17 state agencies created in 2004 to maintain healthy coastal ecosystems, adopted a comprehensive plan to rein in the spread of microplastics in the ocean.

Microplastics are generally particles smaller than 5 millimeters or about 3/16 of an inch. A 2019 study of San Francisco Bay showed the largest single source of microplastics was the small bits of vehicle tires that rainwater carried from streets into the bay.

The council recommends banning more types of plastic, from cigarette filters to polystyrene drinking cups, and filtering storm-water runoff to prevent trash from reaching waterways and the ocean.

A statewide ballot measure in November, the California Recycling and Plastic Pollution Reduction Voter Act, if passed would add financial incentives to help reduce the state’s plastic waste by one-fourth by 2030.