More than 25 California municipalities, particularly those along the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay (sometimes with shoreline on both), have passed ordinances banning polystyrene, usually known by the trade name of Styrofoam.
New ban ordinances, in Monterey County and a small city in that county, Del Rey Oaks, have received first readings and are in the public comment phase.
“There have been no major comments that would cause major revisions,” said Eric Mangahis, senior environmental health specialist for Monterey County.
The county is holding public workshops, including one for Spanish speakers. The county’s ordinance would apply to unincorporated parts of the county.
The county board is due to take action on the ordinance early in 2010, Mangahis said.
The Monterey Regional Waste Management District, which operates the local landfill, has encouraged municipalities to restrict polystyrene. With bans enacted in recent years in the cities of Monterey, Carmel and Pacific Grove, there is a demand for non polystyrene foam. “The markets are slowly appearing and the local restaurant suppliers are starting to carry it on demand,” said Mangahis.
Polystyrene containers end up tangled in kelp on the beach via storm drains and littering. Roadside trash along Highway 1, snaking along the coast, often blows down onto beaches, Mangahis said.
Monterey County is headed in the same direction as its northern neighbor, as all of Santa Cruz County is a polystyrene-free takeout zone. All four cities plus Santa Cruz County itself have bans.
The county passed the ban last year. Before that a voluntary ban from the early 1990s had been generally complied with, said Jeffrey Smedberg, recycling programs coordinator for Santa Cruz County. That means restaurant suppliers have had a long time to switch over to recyclable food containers, he said.
As the county drafted its ban, it examined wording in similar bans in San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Monica.
Smedberg advised other cities contemplating a ban to require containers be certified compostable, a higher standard than “degradable,” which can mean products that degrade into tiny plastic pellets that still take years to break down.
Insisting on compostable containers carries with it the responsibility to develop a professionally managed infrastructure for composting. Santa Cruz is now making plans to expand its composting facility, Smedberg said. The county has a franchise hauler on a special collection route picking up compost from some 50 restaurants, cafeterias and stores.
In Santa Monica, since a ban took effect in February 2008, the number of Los Angeles-area distributors of takeout containers that meet the city’s requirements has grown from 16 to 76, said Dean Kubani, director of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment.
Before the ban took effect, the city worked with food service providers to smooth the way, including setting up a helpful Web site, said Kubani.
City staff was pleasantly surprised by the level of compliance by local takeout food restaurants, Kubani added.
Lance Howland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org