Encinitas to pursue Styrofoam container ban


Encinitas could become the first city in the county to ban polystyrene — commonly known as Styrofoam — food containers.

Citing litter and marine life issues, the Encinitas City Council unanimously directed the Encinitas Environmental Commission to develop a draft ordinance outlawing polystyrene food packaging.

The commission was also asked to educate the public and businesses about the ordinance, which will be up for a vote an unknown date.

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz noted that the city passed a resolution in 1991 discouraging polystyrene materials. However, he said voluntary compliance hasn’t worked.

“While people rail against the ‘nanny state,’ there are some issues that I think require some government action, and this is one of them,” Kranz said.

Initially, Mayor Kristin Gaspar said a draft ordinance was premature, but she ultimately supported it to kick-start community dialogue. She also requested that the ordinance include information about the fiscal impact to businesses.

At Councilman Mark Muir’s request, the council determined it will also lend support for a statewide ban.

“Just for Encinitas alone to solve this Styrofoam problem isn’t going to work,” Muir said. “We need to get the county and state involved.”

It remains to be seen which kinds of businesses would come under the city’s ordinance.

Seventy jurisdictions in California have placed varying restrictions on polystyrene containers. Environmental commissioner Jim Wang noted that most ordinances focused on restaurants and retail food establishments, but don’t apply to grocery stores.

Alternatives to polystyrene packing include recyclable paper and bioplastic, which is made with a corn-based resin.

A report on the agenda item stated that some cities’ polystyrene container bans have also included non-compostable plastic utensils, cups and straws, and the council might consider following suit.

Five public speakers said polystyrene foam doesn’t decompose, and it often ends up in the ocean.

The California Coastal Commission estimates marine debris kills more than 1 million sea birds, 100,000 marine mammals and untold fish every year.

During Surfrider beach cleanups last year, Styrofoam was the third most common item recovered, behind cigarette butts and plastic food wrappers, said Haley Haggerstone, chapter coordinator of San Diego Surfrider.

Cardiff resident Sue Zesky, who regularly picks up trash on the beach, said a ban would help address litter.

“We have a duty and responsibility to protect the ocean,” she said.

The public speakers all supported a ban. But across the nation, the American Chemistry Council has come out against restrictions on polystyrene packaging.

In an email after the meeting, Tim Shestek, senior director of the council, said polystyrene foam is reliable and cost-effective. He went on to say it can be recycled in some cases.

“The polystyrene plastic is recycled and sold to companies in California that make picture frames and other consumer products,” Shestek wrote.

However, Wang noted at the council meeting that polystyrene food packaging is not accepted for recycling locally, because it’s often contaminated by coffee grounds, food waste and other materials.