The San Diego City Council passed an ordinance banning all single-use polystyrene foam containers (styrofoam), utensils, and other products on Tuesday over environmental concerns, with the ban going into effect in April 2023.
San Diego originally voted for a ban in January 2019, but a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit backed by the California Restaurant Association and Dart Container Corporation of California was filed, delaying it for several years. Once settled, the city had to file an environmental impact report to spur a re-adoption of the ordinance. This came together on Tuesday, with the Council voting 7-1 to pass the Single Use Plastic Reduction Ordinance for a second time.
The new ordinance, coming on the heels of a previous ordinance that banned the distribution and use of polystyrene while the lawsuit was pending, will begin the ban, which covers single-use styrofoam food containers, utensils, coolers, and pool toys next year. The reasons given by city staff include the difficulty in finding a place to recycle it, the environmental damage it causes by not breaking up easily, and how it can hurt local wildlife who ingests it.
“Plastic polystyrene is a threat to the environment in San Diego as litter in our canyons, streets, waterways, and beaches. Polystyrene foam blows in the wind and floats on water, where it can be ingested by birds, fish, and other organisms,” the report found.
Supporters who spoke during the meeting also focused on the environmental angle, with Surfriders Foundation representative Alex Ferron noting, “We know that there is plastic in our food, our bodies, and most recently found in breast milk and fetal tissue. Polystyrene foam is a plastic in a form that is the most capable of traveling through our environment and becoming unmanageable and unrecoverable.”
However, some exemptions were given, especially to small businesses still recovering from the pandemic. A 12-month exemption for businesses with less than $500,000 in annual income will be put into place, meaning the ban may not come until April 2024 for some places.
Before the vote, lawyers and restaurant representatives pressed issues such as how styrofoam containers help prevent food-borne diseases and the added costs the change will bring to small business owners. However, in the end, only Councilman Chris Cate voted against the ordinance, ending the nearly 4 year battle over it.
VICTORY! Thank you to the @CityofSanDiego Council and Staff (shout out Environmental Services Dept.) for seeing this one to the finish line. SD becomes the largest city in CA to phase out styrofoam foodware (again). pic.twitter.com/lL9O8F41sB
— Surfrider San Diego (@SurfriderSD) November 15, 2022
“It’s time to say enough is enough,” expressed Councilman Joe LaCava after the vote. “We know it’s a problem.”
San Diego now joins a growing list of counties and cities in California who have instituted similar bans, including Los Angeles County, whose ban will begin in December. Despite the ban, opponents have noted there are many different avenues to go for reversal still.
“Statewide ordinance, another lawsuit, a County lawsuit, local ordinance, slightly altering utensils to get around it – I mean there is a lot to look for here,” explained John, a legal advisor who wished to remain anonymous, to the Globe on Tuesday. “Another lawsuit can stall this for a long time. There is still a lot to do here.”
Barring further delay, the ordinance is due to go into effect starting in April 2023.
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