Atlanta City Council votes for plastics ban

The Atlanta City Council voted unanimously in favor of a ban on non-compostable single-use plastic bags, straws and Styrofoam used to serve food at city buildings and at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

But the plastics ban the city council voted for on Monday would allow for a year to pass before it takes effect. Even then, it will apply only to businesses on new city contracts struck after the effective date and to city purchases.

City council member Amir Farokhi, who proposed the legislation, said at a committee meeting last week that the city is “kind of catching up where a lot of consumer demand is.”

If approved by the mayor, the ban will take effect on or before Dec. 31, 2020 and would apply to  city-run Hartsfield-Jackson, the world’s busiest airport.

However, the Atlanta airport already has some requirements for airport restaurants to use compostable materials.

The city also plans to soon rebid a number of airport restaurant contracts. Concessions contracts struck before the effective date would not fall under the ban, and some contracts are up to 10 years long — meaning a city ban may not be fully enforced at the airport for years.

The legislation is also written to not apply to airlines’ in-flight service nor to Delta Air Lines facilities at the airport. Atlanta-based Delta has been pursuing its own efforts to reduce use of plastic.

The proposed city ordinance would leave specifics on what plastic items are prohibited up to the city’s chief resilience officer, who would write the actual regulations and define the “non-compostable single-use serviceware” to be banned.

An earlier version of legislation was introduced in August, but was put on hold for months as officials worked through complications of the ban and its ramifications.

“Like most things, the closer you look at them, the more complicated they get,” Farokhi said. He said he worked with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and her team on the legislation and expects she will sign it.

“It sends an important message that if you want to do business with the city of Atlanta, you need to be mindful of your environmental impact and work with us to tackle climate change and depletion of fossil fuels together.”

The plastics industry represented by the Georgia Chemistry Council voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance the city council approved, saying alternatives to plastic create other problems.

That’s partly because there is no composting facility in the city of Atlanta to accept compostable materials.

“Atlanta currently does not have the infrastructure to handle compostable packaging,” said Sydney Rubin representing the Georgia Chemistry Council. “By eliminating plastic packaging, the council is increasing costs on consumers and small businesses and ignoring a state-of-the-art plastics recycling facility” in Atlanta.

The Atlanta airport has been working on a project to build a composting and recycling facility, but it has been delayed for years.

Farokhi said that’s “the next challenge,” and added: “I look forward to pushing them on that.”

The city legislation includes a carve-out for disposable flexible plastic drinking straws to make them available upon request in addition to compostable straws, according to Farokhi — including for those who need flexible straws due to a medical or physical condition.

Other cities have also been considering various forms of plastic bans, including Clarkston in DeKalb County, which will vote Tuesday evening on a resolution to reduce the use of non-recyclable, non-compostable single-use plastics in the city.

The city of Atlanta plastics ban would not apply to those with city permits and licenses including vendors at festivals and City Hall events.

Environment Georgia executive director Jennette Gayer testified in favor of the ordinance, calling plastic pollution “one of the most pressing issues facing Georgia’s rivers, oceans and wildlife.”

The city council also unanimously approved a resolution asking the city’s resilience office to pursue partnerships with companies to encourage them to phase out non-compostable single-use serviceware.