Environment / Nature

Plastic ban coming to San Juan Bautista

City mandates use of reusable and compostable products starting Jan. 1.

Get ready to say goodbye to plastic straws, at least in San Juan Bautista.

Starting Jan. 1, restaurants and stores in the city will be prohibited from using single-use plastic bags, styrofoam containers, plastic straws, and other non-recyclable food packaging.

The ban on plastics stems from a citywide ordinance approved by the San Juan Bautista City Council in March. Though the approval took place earlier this year, the ban was stalled when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the city to switch gears. Implementation of the ban was not picked up again until a Sept. 15 council meeting.

Quoting actor Jeff Bridges from the video “Plastic Pollution Coalition—Open Your Eyes,” Councilman Dan DeVries said, “Plastic is a substance the earth cannot digest.”

DeVries used the video to help persuade other council members to look into banning plastics in the city. While he acknowledged a small community such as San Juan Bautista could not make a difference across a wide spectrum, he said being a small town has two advantages: “We can get things done more expediently than a larger municipality,” and “it might serve as an inspiration to a neighboring community.

“Those communities could be big enough to make a difference,” he said.

The city enlisted the help of students with Sustainable Cities at CSU-Monterey Bay, who formulated the language for the plastic ban ordinance free of charge. For implementation, San Juan Bautista worked with San Benito County Integrated Waste Management to see how it could be done.

Celina Stotler, staff analyst with Integrated Waste, said San Juan Bautista businesses had done well with a countywide green business program “in terms of getting enrolled and certified.” That made it easier to work with businesses on the plastics ban.

DeVries said businesses in town were willing to embrace the ban and understood the need to use less plastics and other one-time use foodware. The ordinance also includes some workarounds that allow for compromise. For example, if a business does not have a dishwasher that can get the water hot enough to sanitize reusables, they can work around that and come up with the best plan they can.

Tami Castaneda-Huaracha, owner of Doña Esther’s on Franklin Street, said the change would be difficult but they would adjust. She said they are trying to go “as green as possible” and that it is “for the good of the world.” She expressed concern about how paper straws hold up in liquid and the taste of the straw. But she added, “We have to learn to adapt.”

Along with banning single-use plastics, paper straws must not be used unless asked for, and restaurants must only give compostable cutlery with take-out orders.

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Carmel de Bertaut

Carmel has a BA in Natural Sciences/Biodiversity Stewardship from San Jose State University and an AA in Communications Studies from West Valley Community College. She reports on science and the environment, arts and human interest pieces. Carmel has worked in the ecological and communication fields and is an avid creative writer and hiker. She has been reporting for BenitoLink since May, 2018 and covers Science and the Environment and Arts and Culture.