Atlanta Council Passes Buck on Single-Use Plastics in City Facilities

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amir farokhi(APN) ATLANTA — The City Council of Atlanta wimped out this week on a proposal to ban single-use plastics, by gutting the legislation of any minimum requirements and delegating to the City’s executive branch the authority to decide which single-use plastics, if any, would be banned in city facilities like City Hall and the airport.

 

Rather than hold a Work Session to fully understand the issue, the different types of single-use plastics, the availability of compostable alternatives, and the implications of banning certain items, the Council played hot potato.

 

Numerous Atlanta news media got it wrong: “The Atlanta City Council voted Monday afternoon to ban single-use plastics at all city buildings,” reported WSBTV Channel 2 television news, for example.

 

But 19-O-1418, as amended in City Utilities Committee and passed by the Atlanta City Council on Monday, December 02, 2019, does not, by itself, ban anything.

 

The media ought not to be blamed for the consistent error.  The legislation was self-contradictory, as noted below.  

 

Also, the City Council’s press release misrepresented the legislation as a ban of specific materials.  The press release linked to a non-current version of the legislation, as passed out of Committee on November 26, 2019, prior to a floor amendment which altered the ordinance on Dec. 02.

 

The ordinance, as passed, does not even require the administration to consider banning anything.

 

All it does it grant the authority to administration to possibly ban certain items:

 

“The Chief Resilience Officer or their designee shall have the authority to promulgate administrative regulations to inform the Chief Procurement Officer’s effectuation of this section,” the legislation states. 

 

“Such administrative regulations shall include specific descriptions of the non-compostable single-use serviceware which are the subject of the prohibition contained in this section.”

 

But here’s where the ordinance is self-contradictory: each section of the ordinance first purports to set forth a ban on “non-compostable single-use servicewear.”  Each section then defines single-use plastics as “plastic bags, plastic straws, polystyrene,” the latter word referring to Styrofoam.

 

Then, after seemingly defining the scope of the ban by defining the term, each section gives the executive branch the authority to define the term.

 

Atlanta Progressive News reached out to the Office of Council Communications, speaking with spokespersons Michael Ulmer and Zena Lewis, on yesterday, Dec. 06.  However, neither were able to explain the contradictory aspects of the legislation.  

 

Upon request, APN emailed our question to Mr. Lewis, but has not received a response as of publication.

 

On Nov. 26, the ordinance’s sponsor, Councilman Amir Farokhi (District 2), told the City Utilities Committee he supported the administration’s request to have the authority delegated to them, to include or exclude certain single-use plastics from the ban.

 

Farokhi’s prepared amendment also added the following self-congratulatory language in Committee: “WHEREAS, this bill is the product of months of hard work by members of Council, the Mayor, and her administration and is a notable achievement in cooperative governance.”

 

MISLEADING REMARKS ON PLASTIC FORKS

 

Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd (District 12) asked in Committee about whether plastic forks would be included.

 

“My point is, that is to be determined by the Chief Resilience Officer…. You and I can go to the Chief Resilience Officer and say, ‘Let’s do forks, too,’” Farokhi told Sheperd.

 

However, forks are not even included in the definition of the term, which is “plastic bags, plastic straws, polystyrene.”

 

Farokhi seemed to understand this in a Sept. 23, 2019 interview with Atlanta Progressive News, in which he stated the ordinance “does not include cutlery.”

 

Even a broad reference in the legislation to single-use “servicewear” was removed in Full Council as part of a floor amendment, so it’s not clear how the executive branch could even include plastic forks under the ordinance.

 

FINAL VERSION, FLOOR AMENDMENT UNAVAILABLE TO PUBLIC

 

In order to understand the floor amendment, Atlanta Progressive News had to review the Full Council video.

 

The final version of the legislation or the floor amendment, which passed on Dec. 02, is currently not available online and is not available through the Municipal Clerk’s Office.

 

Vanessa Waldon, the Deputy Municipal Clerk, told APN that the Clerk’s Office sends all the floor amendments over to the Mayor’s Office along with the legislation.  Waldon said the Clerk’s Office does not retain a copy and will not have a copy again until the legislation returns from the Mayor’s Office.

 

It is not immediately clear how this opaque practice complies with the City’s record retention policy.

 

APN has complained to Chief Resilience Officer Kristen Denius regarding the routine practice in which the City denies access online or through the Clerk’s Office to final legislation for several weeks.

 

FAROKHI INTERVIEW

 

APN reached out to Mr. Farokhi regarding his ordinance when it was pending, and briefly interviewed him on September 23.  

 

In the interview, Farokhi was defensive, cutting the interview short after asking for his quotes to be read back to him and insisting that future interviews be audio-recorded.

 

“Fundamentally, the City needs to do its part to lead on fighting climate change.  This is one of many things the City can be doing, but it’s an important thing to do,” Farokhi told APN.

 

THE HARMS OF PLASTIC POLLUTION

 

There is a connection between plastic pollution and climate change, when discarded plastics degrade and release greenhouse gases.  The extraction of fossil fuels and the manufacturing processes used to create single-use plastic also contribute to climate change.

 

Troublingly, plastic pollution also harms sea animals and causes microplastics to appear in fish that are consumed by humans.

 

GEORGIA CATCHING UP WITH THE NATION

 

Cities and states around the country have been adopting single-use plastic bans.

 

Atlanta and cities across Georgia are just catching up.

 

In September 2019, Fulton County Government passed a ban in county-owned facilities that is more defined and broader than Atlanta’s ordinance.  

 

Fulton County’s ban includes “disposable plastics, typically used once before they are discarded, to include plastic bags, straws, coffee stirrers, cups, and utensils and most plastic food packaging….”

 

Then, in October 2019, the City of South Fulton passed a ban in city-owned facilities as well.

 

Atlanta appears to have become the third local government in Georgia to ban single-use plastics.

 

Tybee Island had considered a ban in 2015, which led the Republican State legislature to consider preempting cities’ abilities to ban plastic bags.  The Legislature did not pass the preemption law, and Tybee Island abandoned its proposed ordinance as well.

 

On Tuesday, November 03, the City of Clarkston passed a resolution asking the City Attorney to draft an ordinance regarding the banning of single-use plastic that the City Council intends to consider in May 2020.

 

(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2019)

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