Santa Cruz County is taking a close look at a range of potential new prohibitions. Plastic water bottles and plastic to-go ware, along with helium balloons, cigarettes with filters, e-cigarettes, and single-use beverage machines and their disposable pods are under consideration. Also included is a fee for disposable cups — similar to the statewide 10 cent fee for grocery bags — and a requirement that all businesses provide recycling bins for their customers.
No ordinances have yet been put forward. But at the request of county supervisors, public works officials are reviewing the impacts of numerous potential new regulations aimed at cutting down on waste, while soliciting feedback from the business community, environmental groups and the general public. “This is the broadest spectrum of plastic pollution issues that we’ve addressed all at once,” said Tim Goncharoff, the county’s Zero Waste programs manager. “So it is pretty ambitious, and we think this could have a dramatic impact.”
The county’s stepped-up effort to curb waste is driven in part by its proximity to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, where researchers in June reported levels of plastic comparable to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. As much as 13.7 million tons of trash leak from land into the ocean each year, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Science — roughly the equivalent to emptying a garbage truck into the ocean every minute.
China’s new policy drastically restricting its import of recyclable goods is another concern for public works officials, with previously recyclable plastic now piling up in landfills across the U.S. The production of plastic across the globe, meanwhile, shows no signs of slowing down. Some experts predict it will increase by 40% within the next decade. “There’s concern everywhere about the growing problem of plastic pollution,” said Tim Goncharoff, the county’s Zero Waste programs manager. “The more we learn, the worse it seems to get.”
“It’s clear we need to do more,” he added.
Santa Cruz County was among the first to ban plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam to-go containers. And in November, the county became the nation’s first jurisdiction to pass a ban on little hotel toiletries, a ban that may soon extend statewide via a bill passed by the California Assembly in May that is now working its way through the state Senate.