It’s lightweight and cheap, but a growing number of local jurisdictions agree: It blows.
Styrofoam is quickly losing its local territory, as unincorporated Monterey County and the city of Del Rey Oaks consider ordinances banning take-out polystyrene packaging. The cities of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Pacific Grove and Monterey have already adopted similar bans; the cities of Marina and Seaside are looking into it. The Oldtown Monterey Farmers Market prohibits not only Styrofoam, but also plastic bags.
Since spring 2008, the regional Litter Abatement Task Force has been spearheading a regional effort to ban the plastic foam, which swells landfills and litters the sea, breaking into tiny pieces that marine animals eat. The product’s main component, styrene, contains suspected carcinogens and neurotoxins that likely accumulate up the food chain from fish to humans.
“IT’S ONE OF THOSE NUCLEAR-WASTE-KIND-OF PRODUCTS THAT DOESN’T DISAPPEAR.”
Del Rey Oaks City Manager Daniel Dawson says of the city’s 15 businesses with take-out food, only one currently uses Styrofoam. “We want to be a good neighbor to the ocean community,” he says. “We don’t want any part in contributing something that never biodegrades.”
Supervisor Dave Potter, who referred the ordinance to the board’s agenda, says much of the task force’s discussion has centered on the ubiquitous plastic foam, which he calls the most dominant form of litter other than cigarette butts. “It’s one of those nuclear-waste-kind-of products that doesn’t disappear and has a variety of impacts, whether on land or offshore,” he says. “We’d been getting pretty good support for [a ban] until the plastics industry started weighing in.”
Industry groups including the American Chemisry Council have been fighting the ban city-by-city across California. But it’s up against a rising political tide as legislators and environmental groups push to reduce polystyrene in coastal areas. The growing list of cities that have 86’d Styrofoam includes Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
But a statewide law will have to wait: In June, Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) pulled his own bill from consideration, citing the economy as reason to stall AB 1358, which would have banned polystyrene take-out containers.
The Del Rey Oaks City Council held its first reading of the polystyrene ordinance Nov. 17. The second reading and public comment is scheduled for the Dec. 15. If adopted, DRO’s ban on take-out Styrofoam will go into effect 30 days later.
County environmental documents on the proposed ban are open for public comment through Dec. 21. The Board of Supervisors expects to hear the proposed ordinance in early 2010.