The cost to trade plastic bags and foam containers in for paper and eco-friendly to-go boxes will be significant for restaurateurs, says Jason Sakran, the co-owner of Bon Banh Mi.
The first reading of a proposed ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags, straws and foam containers recently passed Charleston City Council and is now heading for a final vote, but not before city staff make some tweaks to the ordinance's language after a lengthy debate.
Sakran, who already uses eco-friendly products at his two locations, hopes the city will take into account small business owners and work to incentivize rather than penalize those who don't comply. For instance, he suggests a small rebate from the hospitality tax the city imposes on restaurants to encourage participation and help reduce expenses.
"I’m torn," he says. "From an environmental standpoint, certainly it's a coastal town and it makes sense. But as a business owner, it's important to understand that there's an additional cost to this, and we have to make sure we’re sensitive to small businesses that have to absorb this cost."
Sakran did some rough math based on his Spring Street and Mount Pleasant stores and estimates it could cost a small restaurant owner $10,000 over the course of a year to convert to recyclable and compostable products, which they've been using at Bon Banh Mi from the beginning.
"We’ve always purchased those items so it’s built into our cost," says the restaurateur, who worries about businesses like Nana's Seafood that use foam containers and plastic bags and likely operate on the slim margins that most restaurants do.
He thinks ripping the bandage off quickly and banning so many products at once is too much for a small business to absorb and advocates for a more gradual transition.
Kenyatta McNeil at Nana's Seafood located in the Westside neighborhood found out about the ban this week and is worried about the impact.
"It’s a great idea to preserve and better improve environmental stability," he said via email. "But it wouldn’t be cost friendly. ... Non styrofoam containers are more expensive to purchase especially when we are not able to purchase in bulk like bigger chains."
Megan Deschaine, a bartender involved with the Strawless Summer Campaign that encourages bars and restaurants to ban straws, says most high-end restaurants downtown have already implemented eco-friendly practices, but she recognizes it's a complicated issue, particularly for small business owners.
She hopes more people come to the table to discuss the issue and explore incentives and subsidies.
"The more people at the table, the more solutions are generated," she says. "But you don't know what the problems are going to be until you know."
For his part, Sakran urged the city to listen to all of the voices impacted by this ban. "I'm confident there's a way to do it so folks in our community who are environmentally conscious can get their win, and small business owners feel heard and would be compensated."