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Santa Monica Says Goodbye To Plastic Straws, Cups, Utensils And The List Goes On

Santa Monica has voted to ban all plastic straws and other single-use plastic food ware by 2019. (Photo illustration by Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty Images)
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Santa Monica is banning the use of all single-use plastics in the food and beverage industry, including straws, lids, cups, utensils, stirrers and containers.

The city council approved a new ordinance Tuesday night expanding upon one that was passed in 2007. That rule only prohibited non-recyclable polystyrene products like containers and cups but allowed plastic straws, for instance.

Come January, all disposable cups and food ware must be made of marine-degradable materials like paper, fiber or wood, and you won't even get a straw or disposable fork unless you specifically ask for one. The city is instructing businesses to provide disposables only upon request from the customer. The ban even includes bioplastic products.

The new ordinance follows a similar ban in Malibu that went into effect in June.

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Santa Monica's ban will impact more than 800 restaurants and other businesses that provide food and beverage services, according to a staff report.

The city allowed one exception: if a person has a medical condition that would somehow make the use of flexible marine degradable straws unsuitable.

Why all the fuss? It's for the ocean.

"As a beach city, single-use plastics pose serious problems for the natural environment, including polluting the ocean and clogging landfills," Dean Kubani, the city's chief sustainability officer, said in a statement. "This decision will protect our beaches while also getting us closer to our zero waste goal by 2030."

Plastic products can take hundreds of years to decompose and threaten wildlife in the meantime. They flow along streets and storm drains, ending up in the ocean and littering the beaches. A report from the World Economic Forum estimates the ocean will contain, by weight, more plastic than fish by the year 2050.

Recycling hasn't been enough to cut plastics from the waste stream, either. Plastic straws and stirrers are often too small for big recycling operations, falling off conveyor belts, getting stuck in small spaces and eventually finding their way to landfills anyway, according to the staff report.

In addition, food containers and utensils are often considered contaminated and can't be recycled. Overall, 20 percent of all materials collected for recycling in Santa Monica is sent to a landfill instead, according to the report.

The city plans to conduct an outreach program to help businesses prepare for the new rule, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

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