San Diego City Council Bans Styrofoam Products Starting April 2023

Styrofoam in a restaurant. Photo via @10NewsCoronel Twitter

Styrofoam products are on their way to San Diego after Tuesday municipal Council approval of a prescription ban all single-use Styrofoam food containers, utensils, coolers and pool toys from next year.

According to a staff presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, while polystyrene products are accepted in the city’s blue recycling bins, it’s hard to find a ready market to recycle them, and they’re often sent to landfill. – if they do not break down into small pieces and enter the environment of the region first.

“I’m scared of living in a world where the oceans are dying,” Hela Khalil, a 17-year-old student at UC San Diego, said at the meeting. “That’s why I urge those of you in power to act now, so that I and other young people don’t have to live in a world ravaged by climate change.”

According to a report from city staff, plastic polystyrene is “a threat to the environment in San Diego as litter in our canyons, streets, waterways and beaches.” Styrofoam blows in the wind and floats on water, where it can be ingested by birds, fish and other organisms.

Mitch Silverstein, San Diego County Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundationsaid plastic foam products were the second most found litter on area beaches, accounting for more than 14% of all litter picked up during the organization’s recent cleanup event.

San Diego is far from the first municipality to ban polystyrene products. A total of 130 other state jurisdictions have already passed bans, with Los Angeles County’s going into effect in December and the Los Angeles City Council discussing a similar ordinance in December. In fact, of all the coastal towns in San Diego County, only Oceanside will still allow its use once San Diego’s ban goes into effect in April 2023.

The council originally passed an ordinance banning polystyrene products – commonly known as Styrofoam – in 2019, but was later blocked in its implementation by a California Environmental Quality Act lawsuit filed by representatives of three local restaurants, the California Restaurant Association and Dart Container Corporation of California. Then-alderman Chris Ward, who is now an assemblyman, began work on the ordinance in 2018.

In the settlement agreement for this lawsuit, the city agreed to prepare an environmental impact report under California’s Environmental Quality Act. An abbreviated version of the report was submitted with a request to repeal the original order and then re-enact the single-use plastic reduction order on Tuesday.

Daniel Brunton, a lawyer representing Dart and other chemical companies, urged the council not to rush to ban the product, citing a study that claims polystyrene helps prevent the growth of microbes and reduce illnesses in food origin due to its chemical structure.

Council did not budge, passing the ordinance 7-1, Councilor Chris Cate the only one not voting and Councilor Vivian Moreno absent on maternity leave.

Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert was upset that the order had previously been stopped by large companies using a CEQA suit, which she says are intended to help the environment. She said the council should start working immediately on a partners’ ordinance to also ban plastic straws from the city.

Opponents of the order included business owners such as restaurant owners who believe the ban will impose additional costs on their businesses. Jennifer Ott, environmental specialist for the city, said a big part of the city’s job will be to educate business owners, including offering alternatives to styrofoam.

Additionally, the order contains language indicating that there will be delays and hardship exclusions for small businesses and restaurants.

“To help small businesses transition successfully, there would be a 12-month exemption for entities with less than $500,000 in annual revenue,” the city’s report on the ordinance said.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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Rozella J. Cook