UPDATE: San Francisco's proposed ban on Styrofoam has gained unanimous support from the Small Business Commission and the Commission on the Environment.
"I feel this legislation has been a long time coming," said Environment Commissioner Johanna Wald to the San Francisco Examiner. "I am thrilled that it is finally here. It will undoubtedly make a huge difference."
However a large amount of stakeholders in the industry, especially EPS recyclers, doubt that the bill will have such a positive impact.
- San Francisco Supervisor London Breed has proposed legislation to fully ban Styrofoam in the city, which is fueling a heated debate. Environmentalists say the material kills marine life when it floats into oceans and can cause cancer and other health problems in humans. The EPS Industry Alliance argues that such claims are exaggerated, and the California Grocers Association asserts that banning Styrofoam would be a mistake without a safe alternative in place; the Association will request a waiver to use it to package meat and fish.
- If the legislation passes, polystyrene food packaging would be banned, and the material would be prohibited in the manufacturing of beach toys, dock floats, and mooring buoys. The ruling would be enforced by San Francisco’s Department of the Environment who would fine noncompliant companies. Polystyrene foam packages shipped from out of state would be exempt, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.
- Most foam food containers are already banned in San Francisco and have been for years, however this new legislation aims to impose the most expansive ban on polystyrene of any city—even more than Seattle, which currently has the tightest restrictions on the material.
Food and packaging industry stakeholders tout polystyrene; it's cheap, lightweight, and protects food and other products. But it sits around as waste for centuries, clogging landfills and threatening the food chain when it ends up in oceans and kills marine life. And there is heated debate over whether the material can be fully recycled.
Betsy Steiner, executive director of EPS Industry Alliance, which represents the foam transport packaging industry, refutes anti-polystyrene arguments stating the city is "picking and choosing numbers to make the problem look like it’s bigger than it is," as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle.
For now, recycling facility Recology doesn’t work with polystyrene tossed in recycle bins so a majority becomes litter lingering on land and in water. Steiner said it can be recycled, pointing out that 52 communities in California have curbside programs to handle the material. One organization who claims it can be recycled has offered grants for polystyrene foam recycling programs.
Meanwhile, Russell Long, president of nonprofit Sustainable San Francisco, told San Francisco Chronicle he hopes the proposed bill will lead to a statewide ban. "You start getting some momentum on a local level like this and you create a ripple … that’s the goal for the legislation."
Breed's legislation is projected to push through, but the timeframe and how restrictive it will be are not known.