San Diego City Council Votes to Ban Styrofoam

by on October 15, 2018 · 1 comment

in San Diego

On Monday, October 15, the San Diego City Council voted 5 to 3 to ban Styrofoam, also known as polystyrene. The tentative ban is on the use and distribution of products, such as egg cartons and food service containers, that use Styrofoam.

The ban would also prohibit the use and sale of items made partially or completely of polystyrene foam such as:

  • coolers,
  • ice chests,
  • pool or beach toys,
  • mooring buoys and
  • navigation markers .

Plus, Ward’s proposal would require local restaurants to make straws and plastic utensils available to customers only upon request. And part of the ordinance – which has to have a second affirming vote – the city’s Environmental Services Department is to provide a list of safe, affordable alternatives to Styrofoam/ polystyrene products.

City Councilman Chris Ward, who proposed the ban, stated:

“The negative impacts of Styrofoam are permanent and threaten the health of San Diegans, wildlife, and industries critical to our region. The time has come for us to listen to community groups, nonprofits and businesses that have been advocating for this change for years, and move away from Styrofoam and plastics in San Diego.”

Ward has been campaigning for the ban and made at least two trips to Ocean Beach community meetings to explain why. He told the OB Town Council, “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 and it is true that 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.) It 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 ban. Other groups also support it, like the 5 Gyres Institute, Business for Good and the North Park Main Street. Volunteers with Surfrider in 2017 collected 12,575 pieces of polystyrene-related waste from local beaches. And over a hundred cities in California have banned polystyrene – and now it appears San Diego will join the group.

City Council members Ward, Barbara Bry, Georgette Gomez, Lorie Zapf and Myrtle Cole voted in favor of the ban, while Mark Kersey, Chris Cate and Scott Sherman voted against it. Councilman David Alvarez was absent.

Restaurant owners don’t want it and mobilized some of their people to the Council meeting. It will have, they say, an disproportionate adverse effect of the smaller local restaurants that can’t afford more expensive alternatives. A director of the local San Diego chapter of the California Restaurant Association told the Council:

“We’re opposed to the ban because polystyrene is a recyclable product.”

City Councilwoman Georgette Gomez then offered an amendment to the ban – which was subsequently approved – that will provide a 12-month waiver for small businesses that bring in less than $500,000 annually. Gomez said:

“Banning Styrofoam is the right thing to do for the environment but we also have to give our small businesses a chance to adapt to the change. The waiver protects our small businesses as they plan the transition to more environmentally friendly products.”

Councilman Sherman – who voted against the ban – said Styrofoam doesn’t cause litter, people do. He did, he really did. Here is the quote:

“I’m very leery when the word ban gets thrown around. I heard a lot of people talk about the litter that’s caused by single-use plastics and by Styrofoam. The product does not cause the litter, people cause the litter. I’ve done tons of beach cleanups where we see all the Styrofoam and the plastics and the tennis balls and all those different types of things; not one of those got there by itself.”

Among supporters of the ban, there is some concern that Mayor Kevin Faulconer could exercise his veto of the measure. With only a 5 to 3 majority, theoretically he could, as his views on the issue are not publicly known. But if Alvarez shows up for the second vote, that could solidify the veto-proof majority for the ordinance and the ban would go into effect at some point.

Times of San Diego


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Peter from South O October 16, 2018 at 7:15 am

Alrighty, then.
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is what we are talking about here, not Styrofoam.
“Styrofoam” is a unique kind of polystyrene, which is extruded instead of expanded. XPS is designed to be used in building materials and is not found in consumer foam cups or take-out containers.
EPS is recyclable; San Diego has been accepting it in curbside bins for a couple of years now. That is the THEORY. The economics of recycling tells us that the stuff is not worth dealing with, as new food containers must be made from virgin stock.

That being said . . . the stuff is environmentally EVIL and has no packaging application that cannot be replaced by wood-based products. When is the last time you got a carton from Amazon with packing peanuts in it? Paperboard food ‘take-aways” are slightly more expensive to produce than EPS clamshells, but nobody yells about paying an Earth Tax (CRV) on a bottle or can anymore. Businesses should be able to add 20 cents to a take-out order to cover a container (the paperboard ones are an opportunity for advertising, after all).


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