Opinion: City Council Did the Right Thing by Putting Pause on Plastic Waste Ordinance

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It’s just my opinion…

Once again, the new Burbank City Council shows a more updated approach to subjects.

During a meeting on Tuesday night, staff presented an ordinance for the reduction of plastic waste, but a number of flaws need to be worked out.

Basically, what they wanted to do was to put a stop to the public using items such as plastic cups, bowls, plates, containers, utensils, straws, cup lids, napkins, stirrers, and plugs that were all single-use items. The city estimated it would affect around 600 businesses in Burbank.

While everybody supports finding more ways to be sustainable, sometimes we get a little zealous in our implementation. A case in point is that while this is a great idea, there are way too many side problems that need to be addressed before something of this magnitude could go forward.

There were so many flaws in this presentation that the council returned the proposal for further work.

To start with, their survey only covered a fraction of the businesses that were affected. The owners of Porto’s, Tallyrand, and Poquito Mas all addressed the council, saying they knew nothing about this new proposal. All three of these people are major players in our local restaurant businesses and should have known about this in advance.

Secondly, according to the presentation, they used consultants to talk to businesses and to do the survey. Why are so many businesses not included if they’re doing on-site visits to all these businesses? Why do we need consultants instead of having city staff conduct a survey?

One of the things they wanted to do was hire more people for enforcement, yet when asked about why things were not done for the report, one of the excuses was that they were short-staffed. So my question is, if they cannot hire enough staff members now, how do they expect to hire additional staff members in the future?

In particular, one of the regulations said that businesses would have to charge customers $0.25 for the use of single-use cups. This becomes a real issue for many restaurants with to-go items. Not only are all the small restaurants being put in a financial situation, the enforcement, at best, is going to be sporadic. What about all the food trucks that come into Burbank? Either they will not participate in it, or they may stop coming to Burbank altogether. This is a good way to make Burbank an isolated island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where no one wants to do business because of the regulations.

While this is an important subject, it is still a subject that needs to be created over a regional area and over a period of time. it was brought up that Burbank’s landfill would probably only last for another 100 years, and then another form of waste disposal would have to be used. So yes, we get it.

One of the things I applaud the council on is that they stood up for their sustainable Burbank Commission, which does not agree with this ordinance. I have said, and I will say again, that if you have these commissions, you need to give them a purpose and listen to what they say. I have been a big proponent of the sustainable Burbank Commission, and they are doing a great job in addressing many issues that affect us on a daily basis. I was also very happy to hear that their meetings may start to become televised thanks to the Public Information Office after suggestions by Council Member Nick Schultz.

This proposal sounded more like a personal agenda to change the world in a day instead of solving a problem over a period of time. Yes, we need to start changing how we do things and think about waste, but it has been proven that while we will make changes, we are usually slow at doing them.

Once all of the stakeholders have chimed in, and a survey that actually represents 75% of the businesses affected is taken, I am in full support I’m starting to make some changes to how we do things. Without a doubt, education is still the most important thing because enforcement will be haphazard at best and can be used as a weapon by disgruntled customers or neighbors to go after a business.

One of the business owners who addressed the council commented that if they refuse to provide certain items that will be banned to a customer or the customer has to pay an additional fee, the customer will turn to a social media platform and badmouth the restaurant and/or the employee. This is the last thing a restaurant, fighting for its survival, needs.

This will come back to the council in about six months. Let’s hope we come out of the clouds and develop some practical solutions that will help our businesses, economy, and future.

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