Plastic and polystyrene, commonly referred to as Styrofoam containers could become a relic of the past for Newport restaurants by 2022.
The Newport City Council is considering an ordinance to ban single-use plastic and Styrofoam food service ware that have reasonably priced and readily available compostable alternatives. In cases where a good substitute does not exist, the ordinance would implement an “ask first” policy, much like the standard current in place for plastic straws.
The ordinance is intended to “minimize the litter and waste issues” caused by Styrofoam and plastic takeout containers and utensils, according to city documents. It covers any food service ware, including bowls, plates, forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks, clamshells and other containers for to-go food.
The council on Monday night discussed the ordinance, which has been up for consideration since January. Council members are working with other community partners to write a clear and considerate ordinance that does not overly burden restaurants.
Aimee Thompson, recycling coordinator for Thompson’s Sanitary Service, told the council members that language will be the most difficult part of creating an ordinance because many items are marketed as compostable even though they aren’t technically compostable.
She pointed to compostable plastic utensils like forks and spoons, which compost at a significantly slower rate than most other biodegradable materials. That means most compost centers do not accept those kinds of utensils, and any discarded compostable plastic may still end up in the ocean or landfill, making it nearly as problematic as regular plastic options.
Oftentimes, those utensils are marked with federal labels that make them appear eco-friendly. But there is no national standard that regulates those labels, so there is little credibility behind them, Thompson said.
“That is probably going to be the toughest part of your language,” she said.
Restaurants could replace plastic utensils with biodegradable bamboo utensils. However, bamboo options are more expensive and not as easy to find on the market, Thompson said.
In cases like that, the ordinance would allow restaurants to continue to provide plastic utensils or other single-use items, but only if a customer specifically asks for them. The council expects the “ask first” policy to cut back on waste by limiting the number of single-use plastics that are thrown away by customers who do not actually need them, much like the state’s plastic straw rules.
“I don’t support prohibiting something where there is not a readily available alternative,” said Councilor Ryan Parker. Parker added that he wants the ordinance to be simple and easy for businesses to follow, and there is “plenty of cleanup” needed in the ordinance before the council officially puts it to a vote.
The ordinance has received support from the Surfrider Foundation, a clean ocean advocacy organization that submitted a written comment asking the council to approve the ordinance after a few small language changes.
A Surfrider member and Seal Rock resident also spoke in support of the ordinance Monday night.
“When I walk the beaches, which is quite frequently, I always bring a reusable bag with me to pick up garbage, and the plastic to-go ware is among the things I pick up most consistently,” she said.
The council will host a work session at 4 p.m. on Aug. 16 at city hall to further discuss the proposed ordinance and refine the ordinance language. That meeting is open to the public.