Styrofoam products and single-use plastic utensils and containers will be banned in San Marcos under an ordinance introduced by the City Council on Tuesday.
The new prohibition would be phased in over two years beginning next summer and is intended to reduce litter on local land and in the ocean and to reduce the amount of waste placed in landfills. San Marcos is the latest city to adopt such a ban, with Vista approving its ordinance last June. Similar bans have been adopted in Encinitas, Del Mar, Imperial Beach, San Diego and Solana Beach.
City Council members unanimously supported the proposed ordinance, which requires a second reading at a future meeting to be adopted.
The first phase of the prohibition would begin next July and would ban the sale, distribution and use of plastic, disposable utensils such as straws, forks, spoons, knives, stir sticks or anything used to eat food. The ban would apply to city facilities, city events and to food providers such as restaurants, drive-thru eateries, convenience stores, grocery stores, delis, supermarkets, farmers markets and food trucks.
Food providers will be allowed to provide disposable utensils that are non-plastic and either recyclable or compostable, meaning they are made of fiber-based material that will break down into compost. The items would be provided upon request by a customer or at self-serve stations.
San Marcos management analyst Sean Harris said the July date was picked because research by city staff members found businesses would need about six months to exhaust their supplies of products that will be banned and to find alternative products either from a new supplier or their current one.
Beginning July 2023, the prohibition would include the sale, distribution and use of plastic, disposable food service ware such as plates, cups, bowls, wrappers or anything used to carry or hold food.
The third phase would begin January 2024 and would prohibit materials made with expanded polystyrene, often referred to as EPS or the brand name Styrofoam.
Harris said this phase would create the most financial strain on businesses because Styrofoam products are inexpensive. Setting the ban more than two years away will give businesses time to shift away from the products, and the city will help with the transition, Harris said.
Enforcement of the ordinance would begin with a fine of up to $100 for the first violation, a fine up to $200 for a second violation and a fine up to $500 for each addition violation.
Several speakers, including representatives of the Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club, spoke in favor of the ordinance at the meeting. No one spoke against it, and San Marcos Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Rungaitis said the chamber had no position but would work in an educational role to help businesses.
City Councilman Randy Walton said he had received about 100 emails in support of the ordinance and recalled helping in a beach clean-up about a month ago.
“What we were left with was a gigantic pile of single-use throw-away plastic that probably was the size of that podium,” he said. “But for our efforts, all of that plastic would have ended up in our drains, on our trails, on our beaches and in our ocean.”
Walton said they did not find many plastic bags, which he credited to changes in policies and behavior that had reduced the use of the items, which he found encouraging as the city adopts the new ban.