Lawmakers push to ban Styrofoam in San Diego

SAN DIEGO -- City Councilman Chris Ward Thursday introduced a proposal to ban products made with Styrofoam, or expanded polystyrene, in San Diego, citing adverse effects on local waterways and the coastline.

The proposal would restrict the sale and distribution of food service wares, fish and meat trays, egg cartons, coolers and beach toys made with expanded polystyrene, also called EPS. Take-out food containers made with the plastic foam would also become restricted.

EPS threatens the health of San Diegans, wildlife and critical industries, Ward said at a news conference, where he was flanked by City Councilwoman Barbara Bry, environmental advocates and business leaders.

"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," he said.

EPS doesn't biodegrade for hundreds of years. Instead, it "photodegrades," breaking down into small pieces that marine wildlife mistake for food.

The material is one of the most abundant forms of marine and terrestrial litter.

"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," said Roger Kube, a policy adviser with the 5 Gyres Institute. "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."

Volunteers with the Surfrider Foundation collected 12,575 pieces of EPS-related waste from local beaches in 2017, according to Michael Torti, executive committee chair of the environmental advocacy nonprofit's San Diego chapter.

The ordinance introduced Thursday would mandate the city's Environmental Services Department to provide a list of safe and affordable alternatives to EPS products. Staff would also develop a process to phase implementation of new rules to limit the impact on small businesses.

Ward said the ban plays a critical role in meeting the city's Climate Action Plan goal to completely eradicate landfill waste by 2040.

However, Chris Duggan, director of government affairs for the California Restaurant Association's San Diego chapter, called the proposal short-sighted. He said recycled EPS has economic potential.

"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," Duggan said.

In a formal memo, Ward requested the City Council's Rules Committee consider his proposed ordinance.