Arcata Takes Action to Reduce Single Use Plastics

Margaret Gainer, Zero Waste Humboldt

At-A-Glance Single Use Plastic Reduction Ordinance. Photo: City of Arcata.

Every day, Redwood Coast residents and visitors throw away tons of plastic — food and beverage containers, lids, plates, bags, utensils, straws, single-condiment containers, transport packaging, and more. It’s time to move beyond single-use plastic.
Zero Waste Humboldt has long promoted waste prevention and reuse alternatives to single use plastics (SUP) among Humboldt’s local governments, schools, manufacturers and especially food-serving businesses. We are pleased to see the increase in public awareness and gradual lifestyle changes, innovation in business operations, and local governments’ role in reducing waste.

The real solution to stem the tide of plastics is in prevention – consumer activism to reduce the purchase of single use plastic products and packaging, and local, state, and federal legislation to require plastics manufacturers to be responsible for manufacturing pollution and post-consumer waste. California’s SB 54 and AB 1080, the proposed “Circular Economy and Plastic Pollution Reduction Act,” will be coming up for a final vote in the California legislature in the next few months.

The City of Arcata will soon join the ranks of hundreds of U.S. cities with ordinances to reduce single use plastics (SUP) in the waste they generate. Following the success of the City’s 2015 prohibition of use and distribution of Styrofoam, Arcata City Council directed staff to develop an amendment to this ordinance to include:

  1. All single use disposable foodware must be fiber-based and readily decompostable.
  2. Accessory disposable foodware items must be provided only upon request.
  3. Businesses must use reusable foodware for on-site dining.
  4. Businesses must charge customers a fee for single use disposable foodware.

The intention of the proposed ordinance amendment is to eliminate distribution and use of disposable foodware that is not reusable and not easily compostable. At a Tuesday, January 21, 2020 a special meeting of Arcata City Council, several exemptions, discussion points, and how the SUP Foodware Reduction Ordinance will be implemented were discussed. One additional hearing will be necessary to finalize the amendments to the Municipal Code. Humboldt climate change activists and consumers concerned about the environmental damage caused by single use plastics have a growing sense of urgency. A large turnout supported the Council’s approval of this ordinance and celebrated its passage for Arcata.


At the January 21, 2020 meeting of the Arcata City Council, the Council considered a range of options, exemptions, and waivers for the Single Use Foodware and Plastics Ordinance, and ultimately chose a strong version with a reasonable timeline for implementation.
This ordinance is just the beginning in reducing single use plastics — a major contributor to global warming. Public adoption of ‘bring your own’ reusable beverage and takeout containers is essential. Continued work is necessary to develop the infrastructure for reuse – such as water bottle refill stations.
For significant changes to be successful and long-lasting, all three sectors of our community must work together:
Nonprofits, environmental organizations, churches and schools must be active in consumer and youth education about adopting reuse and waste reduction habits. This is a cultural shift.
The private sector is needed to integrate waste reduction ethics into their business operations.
Local government must play its role to encourage and enforce less wasteful policies and practices, in particular, to reduce the damage caused by single use plastics.
Zero Waste Humboldt is encouraging residents and visitors to support the businesses that are demonstrating a real commitment to reduce single use plastics in Arcata. The best way for shoppers and restaurant-goers to show their appreciation to Arcata businesses and events is with their patronage.
The next hearing and final approval for the proposed Single Use Foodware and Plastics Ordinance will be scheduled for an Arcata City Council Meeting in early February. To urge Council to approve a strong ordinance, you can send your email letter to the City Manager, and for the date of the next hearing, go to the City’s website.