As the City moves to eliminate single-use plastics from its operations and considers an ordinance to ban them citywide, it doesn’t have to look far for a model: since 2018, UC Irvine has phased out plastic drinking cups, straws and convenience bags, replacing them with recyclable or compostable alternatives.
Devin Grabiec is the sustainability coordinator for Aramark, which has the contract for food service at UC Irvine. (Grabiec is also a UCI alumnus.) “We once were giving away 500,000 plastic water cups per year,” he says. No more. The campus is now at 97% reusable or compostable products in its dining facilities, closing in on its goal of 100%.
The UCI efforts extend beyond food service. The university’s housing is diverting 79% of its trash to reuse or recycling, through initiatives like an on-campus thrift store and the integration of Goodwill bins in campus communities.
The university’s next move is to work with vendors like PepsiCo Inc. to remove plastic bottles from dining outlets and vending machines throughout the campus, said Rachel Harvey, UCI’s sustainability program manager for housing.
Councilmember Larry Agran, who supports the City’s efforts to eliminate single-use plastics in its own operations and eventually citywide, points to UCI’s success as a prime example of what can be done right here in Irvine.
“Certainly, in developing our program to eliminate these items from our own City facilities quickly, and then working with the community to transition in the coming year or two, the UCI exprerience can be our guide,” Agran says.
The Council first considered banning single-use plastic items at its July 25, 2023 meeting — directing the City staff to work with interested groups to draft an ordinance and return to the Council in 120 days.
On November 28, 2023, the staff reported on its outreach efforts and presented a draft ordinance that would prohibit restaurants, other food-service businesses and stores from using, providing or selling:
- Cups, plates, utensils and straws made of Styrofoam or other non-compostable plastics
- Food-related items made with Styrofoam, such as egg cartons or coolers
- Plastic bags
- Plastic water bottles smaller than 1 liter
During the Council meeting, there was much public comment and Council discussion. Councilman Agran urged staff to move forward on steps the City can take immediately, while continuing to draft an ordinance that could gain broad public support. He endorsed ideas advanced by the staff and others to begin converting City operations and events to recyclable and compostable items. He also urged educational outreach to businesses, including the provision of a list of vendors who offer alternatives to single-use plastics.
In the end, the Council voted 4-1 to take more time to discuss with residents, experts and businesses a proposed citywide ban on single-use plastic products. (Councilmember Mike Carroll was the only NO vote.) While community outreach efforts continue, the City will immediately begin moving to alternative products in its own facilities.
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