Yellow Springs business owners denounce plastic ban
- Published: March 20, 2023
The message from a number of local business owners at a recent town hall was clear: The proposed legislation to restrict commercial single-use plastics is too hasty.
Representing Mills Park Hotel, Yellow Springs Brewery, Tuck-N-Red’s, House of Ravenwood, Dino’s Cappuccinos, Dunphy Real Estate, Yellow Springer Tees, Kiss & Hug Car & Pet Wash, Yellow Springs Baking Company and O&E’s Corner Cone, business owners packed the Council Chambers on Thursday, March 9, to sound off on a proposed ordinance that would limit their use and dispensation of plastic products such as bags, cutlery, take-out containers, styrofoam, cups and other single-use plastic items.
While an earlier draft of the proposed legislation targeted plastics usage at large events, the proposal has since evolved to ban all single-use plastics dispensed to the public from Yellow Springs restaurants and businesses. Owing to the responses at the town hall, the ordinance may be stalled for the time being.
As Village Manager Josué Salmerón said at the outset of Thursday’s gathering, the sole purpose of the town hall was to receive feedback from the business community on the matter before any legislation goes to Village Council for deliberation. Salmerón said he sought to “avoid the ethical and moral issues around single-use plastics” in the ensuing discussion.
The feedback Salmerón received was nearly unanimous: Many in attendance said that making the transition from single-use plastics to biodegradable products would not only be costly, but would create logistical challenges that could lead to noncompliance.
“It’s not a flip of a switch,” Dino Pallotta, of Dino’s Cappuccinos, said. “Council may say they have a wish and a dream … but there’s no way I’m going to eat those cost increases. Just because we all have our own business doesn’t mean we’re independently wealthy — we’re pinching pennies every which way we can.”
Echoing Pallotta’s concerns about the costs of switching to nonplastic cutlery, cups and containers was Matthew Kirk, who owns O&E’s Corner Cone.
“Most of us have been dealing with supply chain issues over the last two years,” Kirk said, “and we’re about to ramp up to our busy season. This is just one more thing we have to take into consideration.”
Kirk later told the News that the cost of a box of spoons would jump from $11 for plastic to $46 for biodegradable.
At the meeting, he also expressed some skepticism of the purported positive environmental effects of biodegradable products.
“Compostable things need exposure to oxygen in order to break down,” Kirk said. “If you throw them in a trash bag that goes to a landfill with everything else, then it’s the exact same thing as throwing away plastic. Sure, we can buy these products, but if they’re not going to be treated the right way, then what’s the point?”
Salmerón noted that although the Village doesn’t offer municipal composting services to businesses or residents, such a program is “still on the radar.”
In response to some business owners who said they felt blindsided by the suddenness of the proposed ordinance, Salmerón pointed out that the legislation stemmed from years of citizen concerns over the amount of plastic waste from Street Fair. Efforts to curb plastic usage in the village were later hampered by a state-implemented prohibition on municipal plastic bans during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the prohibition expired in 2022, vigor was renewed among some Council members to see some anti-plastic legislation return.
“Council has very ambitious goals around climate action,” Salmerón said. “One of the factors that’s driving this legislation is the desire to reduce our carbon footprint. It aligns with our village values and goals to contribute in a positive way to reverse climate change — not just locally, but globally.”
As Salmerón said at the town hall, and as previously reported in the News, the language in the proposed ordinance was inspired by a similar law in Bexley, Ohio, a community of over 13,000 residents west of Columbus. In early 2020, Bexley adopted an ordinance that banned plastic bags. Then, in 2022, the second phase of Bexley’s plastics ban — which targeted single-use plastic beverage straws, stirrers, drink stoppers and cutlery — went into effect. Bexley businesses in violation of the law are guilty of a minor misdemeanor and are fined up to $100 per infraction. Additionally, the city established a fund of $2,500 to assist businesses in abiding by the new law.
“So, that’s a model we want to pursue,” Salmerón said. “[Penalties] would be complaint-driven and per violation, not per [plastic] cup.”
Lisa Wolters, cofounder of the Yellow Springs Brewery, stated at the meeting that she was concerned about what penalty costs the brewery may incur given that the business already has pallets of plastic cups that they had intended to use for years to come.
“We’d like to have time to use our current supply because disposing of them defeats the purpose of the legislation,” she later told the News.
In an email, Wolters said that the brewery’s bottom line would be impacted by a plastic ban in several ways.
“We use plastic cups in our taproom on very busy days because we can’t keep up with washing glasses,” she wrote. “Also, on busy Yellow Springs days, many of our glasses walk away down the bike path. This is a financial loss for sure, but we also view it as a potential safety hazard.”
Wolters also noted that food truck vendors who park in front may not be able to comply with the ordinance, and as a result, might cease their partnership with the brewery.
“It’s difficult to estimate the financial impact of this, but we are guessing the loss could be significant,” Wolters wrote.
The News also caught up with Ryan Aubin and Alex Price, the owners of the Mills Park Hotel, after the meeting to see if they believed their concerns were addressed at the town hall.
“It was enlightening for us to hear the other attendees share the same overall [concerns] we had,” Aubin wrote to the News. “We feel like the overall mood in the room was one of concern about Council proposing legislation without doing its due diligence with stakeholders and the immediate consequences this ban would have.”
The pair said that if the ban were to go into effect, the combined businesses of the hotel, Ellie’s Restaurant, the hotel’s events center and the gift shop would see “an approximate four to five times cost increase.”
“In an ideal situation, business [owners] would be given the opportunity to make the best choices for their businesses,” they said. “We have, and continue to take, a business-forward, environmentally friendly approach in how we operate.”
Having watched the town hall remotely and recognizing the concerns business owners expressed, Council President Brian Housh said he appreciated the issues that came to the surface.
“It was informative for me,” Housh told the News earlier this week. “I heard an understanding and a willingness for a need to respond to how screwed up our environment is, but I also felt like most of the conversation was dominated by a few people who may not reflect the views of the majority of [Yellow Springs] businesses. Not to mention, I think there’s another silent majority in favor of a plastic ban among our residents.”
Housh said that although there won’t be an ordinance banning plastics coming before Village Council at the group’s upcoming meeting on Monday, March 20, there will be a resolution to “establish sustainable practice for village events.”
For Housh, this resolution — which will mostly pertain to large-scale events such as Street Fair, and Pride — will hit on three points: to encourage vendors to use paper bags over plastic bags, to have food vendors use paper packaging over styrofoam and plastic and to reimplement refillable cups in the beer garden.
“So, either you buy a souvenir cup or an aluminum can — or you just don’t buy beer,” he said.
As Housh said, he believes implementing these three tenets could be a way to acclimate the business community and village residents to an eventual, more robust single-use plastics ban.
“I appreciate that we have to move slowly, more intentionally, and recognize the challenges on a broader scale,” he said. “But I think what I realized from the town hall is that we still aren’t addressing some more immediate issues. You know, getting rid of styrofoam, getting rid of plastic bags. Basic things.”
“And really, I think this is something all municipalities should do,” Housh added.
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