Watsonville passes bans on plastics

Bans to roll out over 2 years

WATSONVILLE — The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a pair of plastic reduction ordinances that will put the city at the forefront of a growing effort to dump single-use plastic products.

The City Council repealed and replaced its existing Environmentally Acceptable Packaging and Products Ordinance with a new ordnance that will force the city’s food service industry to make the switch from plastics to biodegradable and compostable containers. 

It also passed a Hospitality Industry Plastic Reduction Ordinance that would prohibit the use of small, single-use bottles for personal care products and require hotels, motels and vacation rentals in city limits to switch over to large bottles, dispensers or other alternatives — a ban already in place in the unincorporated part of the county and recently introduced at the state level.

The council also included an amendment in the first ordinance in which anyone can ask for a plastic straw without having to prove they have a disability, verbiage that was included in the city staff’s presentation that did not sit well with council members.

The changes will be rolled out in waves over the next two years. In 2020 restaurants will be prohibited from using plastic straws, and the hospitality ordinance will also kick in. The following year restaurants will be required to have a three-bin waste system and compostable to-go food wares and a mandatory 10-cent to-go cup charge, a fee similar to one implemented in the city’s ordinance against plastic bags earlier this decade.

“The idea is these lower hanging fruit on reusables like bags, cups, things like that, people can really make some big leaps in reducing trash, recycling and compostables,” Assistant Public Works & Utilities Director Michelle Templeton said. “That’s the goal behind the charge.”

The new ordinance is thought to be one of the toughest in the county and region, and follows the lead of other cities such as San Francisco, Berkeley, Alameda and Palo Alto, which have already banned plastic straws and made significant steps toward outlawing containers not deemed biodegradable or compostable.

The decision also falls in line with the City’s Climate Action Plan from 2015, which set a goal of having 80 percent of all municipally-generated waste to be diverted by 2020, and tackles the recent limits on recycling from China’s National Sword Policy enacted in 2017, which left the U.S. without a buyer for its annual 1.4 million tons of plastic waste.

“We have no alternative buyers and those numbers are expected to rise,” Templeton said.

The vast majority of the community on hand for the meeting voiced overwhelming support for both ordinances by urging the council to take the lead in protecting the environment and reducing the reliance on plastics.

“[Plastic pollution] is threatening to kill our ocean and that ocean is the most important global resource that we have,” Executive Director of Save Our Shores Katherine O’Dea said. “It’s time to act now…You have an opportunity to be truly a leader across our region.”

The lone vocal opposition to the ordinances came from Lupe Zepeda the general manager of McDonald’s in Watsonville. Zepeda said the cost to larger restaurants creates some “concern.”

“It’s easy for a small business to deal with, but when you’re targeting restaurants, it becomes a little more complicated,” she said.

That concern about the cost, Templeton said, was one of the reasons why city staff recommended the ordinances be doled out in waves. Templeton also said staff has done its due diligence with businesses throughout the city over the last few months.

They started conducting “door to door” outreach in fall of last year, sent letters to businesses last month and recently ran a well-attended community feedback workshop. Additionally, a survey has circulated through businesses over the last two months.

“When an ordinance or mandate comes from the state, we don’t have a lot time to act,” Templeton said. “One of things Watsonville has always done when it’s our ordinance, we take a lengthy approach so that we can do it right. If we can predict what’s coming, we can create longer timelines to meet those goals, and that helps businesses.”


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