During the June 13 meeting of the Long Beach City Council’s Environmental Committee, Public Works Environmental Services Bureau Manager Diko Melkonian made a presentation regarding the proposed ban on polystyrene (Styrofoam) in the city. The three-member committee is chaired by Councilmember Daryl Supernaw and includes Vice Mayor/Council Rex Richardson and Councilmember Jeannine Pearce.


As part of the original request by the city council in December, environmental services has gathered stakeholder input during five meetings, including June 13. Melkonian made similar presentations during another environmental committee meeting in February, at a sustainable city commission meeting in March, and economic development meetings in March and May.


“At each one of these meetings, there was opportunity for public input, and there was quite a bit of public input,” Melkonian said during his presentation. “If you attended any of those meetings, you would find that there are people that are very passionate on both sides of this issue, and we were fortunate enough to be able to include them and take their comments into consideration.”


In the latest presentation, a timeline for the implementation of various phases was included. Phase one of the ban would go into effect on October 1 and would apply to all city departments, facilities and events. Phase two would apply to large restaurants and go into effect on April 22, 2018. Phases three and four would go into effect October 1, 2018, and would apply to small restaurants and other businesses, including caterers, hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, hotels and schools.


Melkonian said city staff is still trying to determine how to differentiate between large and small restaurants, adding that the number of seats is being considered as an option.


“One of the big concerns out there was from mom and pops, smaller restaurants, having concerns about the impacts on them,” Melkonian said. “So we felt by giving them these separate phases, we could give a little bit of relief up front and give these smaller restaurants a little more time to come into compliance.”


The proposed implementation dates are tentative, Melkonian explained. He said the final timeline would ultimately be set by the city council after hearing all stakeholder input. During the committee meeting, Richardson and Pearce said they would like more time between phases two and three to give small business owners more time to adjust to the transition.


“When we come up with these things at city council, we try to be good stewards of the planet and we try to be environmentalists. But sometimes we forget about the small guy,” Richardson said. “I’m glad to see that there is a phase in.”


The products chosen by each business to replace polystyrene, according to Melkonian, will determine the economic impacts on businesses caused by the ban. He explained that some alternatives could be less expensive, cost the same or be more expensive. However, he said other cities that have implemented similar bans report higher initial cost, with a reduction as more businesses transition and supply and demand takes over.


Additionally, Melkonian said staff is looking at developing cooperative purchasing opportunities to help businesses save money and would assist restaurants in linking with vendors, as well as including an undue hardship clause to exemption requests.


The ordinance would also include a public education element featuring a multi-language website and print materials, open-house meetings and a hotline. Melkonian said staff is also considering temporary waivers, incentives for businesses that comply early and exemptions for businesses to exhaust existing polystyrene inventory.


“We will have enforcement provisions in our current operations,” Melkonian said. “The health department will be looking as they do their annual health inspections that restaurants are coming into compliance with whatever format the ordinance may take.”


Some public commenters, such as members of the Surfrider Foundation and Don’t Waste Long Beach, praised the proposal as a step in the right direction and a means for Long Beach to lead the way for surrounding cities. While restaurateurs, the California Restaurant Association and the Plastic Food Service Packaging Group maintained that the ban would unnecessarily hurt business owners and would do little to solve litter issues, as most polystyrene litter does not come from the food service industry but rather packaging materials.


City staff will incorporate the most recent public comments into the information provided to city council for further deliberation. A date has not been set for the meeting before the full city council.

Brandon Richardson is a reporter and photojournalist for the Long Beach Post and Long Beach Business Journal.