A ban on single-use plastic containers and straws in Laguna Beach parks and on its beaches and trails went into effect last week, as city officials hope to curb pollution made worse by the thousands of people who visit the seaside town daily during the summer and rest of the year.
Early offenses will come with a warning and education, but people could later face an administrative citation, the new law says.
The new restrictions on the use of plastics, which also target plastic take-out bags and utensil sleeves, are part of the Neighborhood & Environmental Protection Plan city leaders approved earlier this year to address the impact the more than 6 million annual visitors to Laguna Beach can have on its residents. New rules also include not feeding wild birds, and the city will also start closing parks earlier at 10 p.m. and increase the cleaning of some beaches and other public areas. The city is spending about $2 million on its efforts.
The enhanced plastics ban is the first of its kind in Orange County – there are 38 cities in California that ban single-use plastics. In 2007, Laguna Beach also became OC’s first city to ban Styrofoam or polystyrene.
“Plastic waste is an enormous source of ocean pollution and we hope this ordinance sets an
example for all coastal cities,” Mayor Bob Whalen said. “We have been working with our restaurants and they have been very willing to work with us. The city realizes plastics won’t go away overnight and we are already working to educate our local businesses and beachgoers as to where they can find plastic-free products.”
City officials have embarked on a marketing program and sent a letter to each restaurant operating in town. For some, making the change will be easier than for others.
Laurent Vrignaud, who operates Moulin, a French restaurant on the Promenade at Forest, said the switchover won’t be a problem.
“Whatever the rules are, we obey them,” he said. “I just go along with the flow.”
It’s easy for him because his food for years has already been packaged in bio-degradable containers and paper products. His silverware is made from potato starch, he said.
Vrignaud already isn’t a fan of to-go service, he said. “I come culture where you don’t consume food on the go.”
But not far down the promenade, another restaurateur isn’t so happy with the city’s new law.
“I’m all for protecting the environment,” said Alessandro Pirozzi, who operates Alessa, an Italian restaurant. “But, this will decrease our already little margin of profit. It will be difficult to find new products. We are looking for alternatives for hot food that can be microwaved, but we really don’t know what to do.”
Councilman Peter Blake said he is happy with the city’s efforts to combat the plastics problem.
“I’m disgusted by the amount of plastics on the beach,” he said. “This gives everyone – residents, restaurants and tourists – an opportunity to understand that we are all stewards of the bluebelt and the greenbelt. Just like we did with the smoking ban, we give people a chance. If you’re eating a salad from a single-use container, you’ll get a warning, but next time, please don’t do it anymore. It’s the big picture of how we protect our oceans.”
Blake said it’s his hope the new laws will bring about change.
“For me, I’m looking for compliance,” he said, adding that on Friday he stopped police officers to point out large shade structures along Main Beach. Those are also now prohibited because they interrupt the sight lines for lifeguards whose job is to oversee safety along the shore.
Storing bikes at beaches or local parks also is no longer allowed. And leaving unattended belongings at these public places is also a no-no.
New weekend crews will focus on litter pickups in some of the town’s most visited areas, such as South Laguna, North Laguna, the Top of the World neighborhood and along Coast Highway. The city is also increasing its trash collection services. And, more trash containers have been added in areas of the city where visitor use is high.
Charlotte Maserik, a board member of the Laguna Bluebelt Coalition, which works to protect local beaches and marine life, applauds the city’s efforts.
“The no-smoking ordinance has made a huge difference on our beaches and ocean since its inception a couple of years ago,” she said of the reduction seen in cigarette butts.
“Laguna Beach has always fought for and believed in environmental sustainability, and the banning of single-use plastics on our beaches is in keeping with our commitment to protecting our beaches and the sea life dependent on a healthy ocean,” she said.
Hoiyin Ip, a Dana Point resident, has spent the last several years advocating for no-smoking and plastics bans at city councils in coastal communities.
“The timing of the ban is great,” she said. “It became effective in Plastic Free July. And since the Festival of Arts is on city property, many visitors get to witness the change.”