Plastic Straws Banned in Monterey, CA

An ordinance banning the use of plastic straws and other single-use plastics at all food service establishments within Monterey was passed unanimously by the City Council in late November.

The new legislation, which will go into effect on Earth Day, April 22, includes plastic beverage straws, utensils, stirrers, and cup lids and requires these products to be biodegradable, compostable or recyclable. The policy’s intention is to significantly reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment as well as to begin to address the growing challenge of the diminishing amount of types of materials that can be recycled.

“It’s a way forward to continue to reduce plastic consumption as well as pollution,” said Kim Cole, the City’s community development director. Representatives from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Surfrider and Save the Whales have come out in support of the ordinance that bolsters the city’s already strict single-use disposable plastic laws in place.

“What’s happening – particularly in coastal cities – is that they are learning from each other and beginning to follow the lead of cities like Carmel and Monterey … it only makes sense that we protect our pristine coastline,” said Barbara Meister, public affairs director for the Monterey Bay Aquarium. According to a recent report prepared by the Aquarium staff, almost nine million tons of plastic enters the ocean each year. Plastic input into the ocean is expected to double by 2025.

Currently, many plastic materials aren’t recyclable and therefore have to be compostable.

Meister said, “The nuance about the word ‘recyclable’ is that items like straws, stirrers, utensils-to-go or coffee lids are not because they are too small.” She also noted that in general, recycling markets such as China are changing and in the case of Monterey,  ‘recyclable’ refers to those items that Monterey Disposal is able to recycle.

At last week’s meeting, there was also a presence from members of the disabled community who rely on plastic straws to help them function more independently. Cole said the new amendment will include an exemption for individuals with a self-identified disability. “It was the most significant issue discussed with quite a few representatives from that community concerned about the need for plastic straws. So if a person requests a plastic straw with their own self-identified disability, the restaurant will be required to provide one,” said Cole.

It was in June the Monterey Fisherman’s Wharf Association announced that upward of 20 food establishments (including both restaurants and fish markets) would be participating in a plastic straw ban. Moving forward, the establishments would be using paper or reusable straws. That was after city officials sent out notices to restaurants letting them know of a potential citywide plastic straw ban.

Ted Terrazas, the city’s sustainability coordinator, had worked with other community officials like Meister to incorporate community and business input into the proposed and recently passed the ordinance. Terrasas has previously explained that due to changes in global markets, recycling some plastic items that used to be done routinely has become more difficult. 

Currently, eight cities have similar plastic bans including Carmel, Santa Cruz, and Manhattan Beach.

Also last week, on the same day that Monterey’s City Council passed its new ordinance, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors banned single-use plastic amenities in hotel rooms and vacation rentals.