City of San Diego approves ban on styrofoam containers

The City of San Diego on Monday took final action on a proposal to ban Styrofoam food and beverage containers. By a vote of 5-3, the council members passed a ordinance which would outlaw polystyrene containers, also known as Styrofoam.

The law would also limit single use plastics such as straws and utensils, which would be available only by request.

Supporters of the proposal said it would help to protect the environment, but opponents claimed it would hurt the economic health of small businesses. At Salud, a restaurant in Barrio Logan, manager Ernie Salgado explained the restaurant has been using recycled paper containers for takeout food since Salud opened three years ago. Salgado said the paper containers cost only a few cents more than the Styrofoam and his customers seen to appreciate the restaurant’s efforts to protect the environment.

Council member Chris Ward who introduced the proposal in May said Styrofoam is destructive to the oceans and to marine life because it doesn’t degrade. Ward and council member Barbara Bry cited scientific studies that showed tiny plastic particles are showing up in the fish we eat.

“We know that one-quarter of the fish that come out of the Pacific Ocean for human consumption test positive for plastic,” Ward.said.

He added that the cost differential between Styrofoam and more eco-friendly replacement products range from 1 to 7 cents.

The measure was opposed by the California Restaurant Association. Chris Duggan with the CRA offered a different cost analysis and said forcing small businesses to use alternatives to polystyrene would result in significant increases in their container costs.

“They would range from 54% all the way to 145%,” Duggan said.

Melford Wilson, who runs a restaurant in Valencia Park said a ban on Styrofoam might force him to close.

“Yeah, if I had to switch, that definitely would take me out of business. I can’t afford to pay 66% on just buying the stuff to put my product out,” Wilson said.

After hearing from both sides, the city council voted to approve the ban, with a 12 month grace period for small businesses to comply. The ordinance also includes a waiver that would permit business to be exempted if they can prove the mandate would cause economic hardship. San Diego is the fourth city in the county to adopt a ban on Styrofoam food and drink containers and follows 119 other cities and town in California that outlaw containers made of Styrofoam.