Fayetteville to study possible regulations on single-use plastics

The Fayetteville City Council took another step toward moving the city away from single-use materials that end up in landfills.

The council last month passed an ordinance that prohibits city staff from using city money to purchase foam products, and bans the use of foam containers by anyone operating a concession stand or food truck inside city parks and in city-owned parking lots.

At the time, the ordinance had full support from the council, but some members said they wish it went further.

Council member Teresa Turk, who sponsored the measure, said one of her campaign promises last year was to try and reduce not only the use of foam, but also single-use plastics.

“This is just the first step,” she told the council in May. “There will be more coming. We’re not done.”

Turk this month introduced a resolution that asks city staff to work with the Environmental Action Committee to research ways in which the city might regulate single-use plastic shopping bags, plates, bowls, cups and utensils.

Turk said she’s open to any ideas that could help reduce the use of those materials, including a possible city-wide ban, added fees, or some other type of creative way to disincentivize the use of those products.

The resolution was unanimously approved at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting, and nobody from the public came forward to speak about the proposal.

City staff said the research will include conversations with business owners who would be affected by any new regulations. Staff will also research potential cost-effective replacements for those products, and examine successful plastic regulation programs in other cities.

About 200 cities across the country have banned or taxed plastic bags, including Seattle and San Francisco, according to ReuseThisBag.com, which gleaned data from the National Conference of State Legislators and other state- or county-level reports.

The site found that the average plastic bag picked up at a grocery store or restaurant has a lifespan of about 12 minutes, but can take between 500 and 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill. Studies have shown the bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, and become microplastics that absorb toxins and can pollute the environment.

Several members had some added suggestions for city staff.

Council member Sonia Gutierrez said she’d like staff to also research the negative effects of plastic straws.

Council member Kyle Smith asked if staff would also look into foam and single-use plastics that are sold in bulk at stores instead of just those used by restaurants when food is purchased.

Turk said she’d like staff to ask the University of Arkansas if the school has conducted any related research or if university staff or students would like to help with this process.

Council member Sarah Marsh asked if staff would look at the impact of plastic litter using weight or volume, or if the overall ecological cost incurred by the city would be factored in. Staff said all of those methods will be used.

“I want to thank Council member Turk for bringing this forward,” said Marsh. “This is exciting.”