Should San Diego Ban Styrofoam?

by on July 27, 2018 · 7 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, San Diego

Councilman Chris Ward appeared before the Ocean Beach Town Council last Wednesday night and urged OBceans to support his efforts to ban styrofoam.

He explained his proposal passed the Council’s Rules Committee unanimously on July 11 and is heading to the full Council sometime this fall.

And if San Diego does pass it, the city will become the 4th city in San Diego County to ban food and beverage containers made of styrofoam – also called polystyrene; others include Solana Beach, Encinitas and Imperial Beach.

Our city would become the largest city in California to enact the ban, joining a list of 116 other cities across the state, which include San Jose, San Francisco and Long Beach (while Los Angeles is discussing it).

So, just what is Councilman Ward’s proposal?

His proposal would restrict the sale and distribution of food service wares, fish and meat trays, egg cartons, coolers, ice chests, pool and beach toys, dock floats and mooring buoys made with styrofoam – or expanded polystyrene -, and take-out food containers of plastic foam would be restricted.

Plus, Ward’s proposal would require local restaurants to make straws and plastic utensils available to customers only upon request. Fines would be $200 for a first offense, $350 for a second offense within the same 12-month period, and $500 for a third offense. Small restaurants (with revenues less than $500,000) could receive a hardship exemption from the city lasting as long as two years.

Ward’s ordinance would also have the Environmental Services Department provide a list of safe and affordable alternatives to EPS products to businesses, with a process being to phase in the new regs to soften the impact on small businesses.

When he introduced his measure – also supported by Councilwoman Barbara Bry and environmental groups – back in May, he stated how styrofoam / expanded polystyrene – also known as EPS – threatens the health of San Diegans, wildlife and critical industries. He said:

“It’s time San Diego joins over a hundred cities throughout California that have already banned these harmful environmental pollutants and moves forward toward a more sustainable future.”

“This material does not ever break down and is ingested by marine life right outside our western door – including the fish that we eat.”

Polystyrene is not biodegradable; it has been blamed for poisoning fish and other marine life and damaging the health of people who eat seafood. (The name Styrofoam is simply the brand name of its manufacturer.) EPS doesn’t biodegrade for hundreds of years. Instead, it “photodegrades,” breaking down into small pieces that marine wildlife can mistake for food. The material is one of the most abundant forms of marine and terrestrial litter.

San Diego Surfrider is in favor of the restrictions – as the group’s chairman, Michael Torti said, “The evidence is overwhelmingly clear,” that polystyrene is poisoning fish and the people who eat them. He added that volunteers with Surfrider in 2017 collected 12,575 pieces of EPS-related waste from local beaches.

Roger Kube, an OBcean and policy adviser with the 5 Gyres Institute, told the press:

“Our growing reliance on disposable plastic to fuel our ‘culture of convenience’ is not without cost. Globally, an average of eight million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean.

Once there, sunlight and currents shred plastic debris into smaller particles called microplastics, which absorb and concentrate toxic chemicals up the marine food chain and into our bodies. From plankton to fish, and to humans that eat seafood, plastic pollution is changing the very chemistry of life.”

Now – who would be against these measures to safeguard the environment and our health?

You probably already known or guessed it. Of course, it’s the restaurants and other businesses who use polystyrene. They hire lobbyists to work against such bans. The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association are against Ward’s proposal.

For example, Chris Duggan, director of government affairs for the California Restaurant Association’s San Diego chapter, called the proposed ban short-sighted, and told the press recycled EPS has economic potential. He said:

“San Diego has been a leader in sustainability by expanding its curbside program which has resulted in reducing waste in landfills. In fact, early results have indicated that more material such as plastics and expanded polystyrene are being recycled. Recycled expanded polystyrene has domestic markets.”

Councilman Ward told his Ocean Beach audience the other night that much of the polystyrene collected ends up in our landfills.

Lobbyist Duggan, however, said restaurant containers made of EPS represent less than one percent of all waste. He and others contend alternative packaging do not maintain warm or cold temperatures for foods while being more pricey, and higher costs, naturally, will be passed on to customers. They also claim restaurants would likely use mixed paper as a replacement – and that would end up in landfills.

Which way to go, San Diego? Health versus convenience? Environment versus costs?

News sources:

San Diego Union-Tribune

Times of San Diego

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Dr. Jack Hammer July 27, 2018 at 4:21 pm

Yes. The whole world should ban styrofoam.


Derek July 29, 2018 at 10:35 am

Just stayed at the Ramada by the airport. Recycling baskets in rooms, card on check in desk that they recycle room cards, and then in the dining area for breakfast every single thing was styrofoam!! Cups, plates, plastic stirs, plastic utinsels. Don’t just act like you’re environmentally friendly… Do it across the board!


triggerfinger July 29, 2018 at 4:17 pm

Probably, but first I’m curious to see what the opposition argument is to it, including any unintended consequences.

The amount of styrofoam bits that wash up on our beaches is disgusting.


Stephanie July 30, 2018 at 9:48 am

I support the Styrofoam ban (and disposable plastic bags, straws, utensils, diapers, etc.). Our culture of convenience based on disposables has not been in existence that long, and has had massive repercussions for the environment, wildlife and our health. If you do not want to pay a surcharge at a restaurant for compostable containers for takeout or leftovers – bring a tupperware dish and a reusable cup.


Peter from South O July 30, 2018 at 11:11 am

Remember what the desired endgame is here: reduction to elimination of the food chain damage that EPS waste does.

EPS is, by and large is being replaced by other materials, product packaging often reverting to pressed fiberboard (egg cartons as an example). We who inhabit the beaches can remember what a mess those Styrofoam coolers made before THEY were banned. I haven’t heard any complaints about that action.

For anyone interested in a good source of non-geek info on the food chain check out Civil Eats (dot COM).


retired botanist July 30, 2018 at 12:03 pm

Stephanie nailed it with the phrase “culture of convenience”… its one of our biggest problems! I can remember 40 years ago when Bic (or someone) put out the first disposal razors- I was horrified even then! What a wasteful product! And try and find a reusable Gillette razor nowadays…
This is not to say disposal tools (including plastic water bottles) of all sorts don’t have a function and use, e.g. in surgical settings, calamity/emergency settings, etc. But to be buying and consuming ANY plastic or styrofoam products simply because of laziness or convenience is just mindless in today’s environment!
And let’s not forget those hideous styrofoam packing peanuts and bubble wrap- listen up, UPS! And kudos to Ward! :-)


triggerfinger July 30, 2018 at 4:48 pm

Plastic water bottles sure are convenient. So when I buy them I get a nice sturdy bottle and refill with filtered tap and reuse them many times over until they are eventually lost or damaged.

A new challenge may be the trend for online shopping and food delivery. That generates a lot of waste. Yes much of it is recyclable, but still consumes resources… and the recycle value has gone way down recently.


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