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San Jose votes to ban polystyrene foam containers

By: Jeremy Carroll

August 27, 2013

San Jose, Calif., will become the largest city in the country to pass a ban polystyrene foam containers for food service. The City Council on Aug. 27 passed a measure to phase out the material starting in 2014.

With a 9-2 vote, the proposal passed on first reading. A second and final vote will take place Sept. 3, but the vote is likely simply a formality. San Jose, California’s third largest city and the 10th largest city in the country, will now ban national food vendors from providing PS containers to customers starting Jan. 1, 2014, and other food vendors from giving customers PS containers starting Jan. 1, 2015. The law also allows for a financial hardship clause that could delay the implementation of the ban for specific restaurants.

City leaders who pushed for the measure said it would help reduce stormwater trash and get the city closer to its zero waste goal.

Both the American Chemistry Council and the California Restaurant Association were critical of the move. Both argued that PS is recyclable and the city should not give up on those efforts.

“This is a real step backward for recycling,” said Tim Shestek, senior director of the American Chemistry Council in Sacramento, in a statement. “The City Council’s vote would lead to prohibiting packaging that’s collected in curbside recycling programs elsewhere in California and replacing it with packaging that is thrown in the garbage.”

ACC said PS foam alternatives are costly and have a lower performance quality. City officials said a study they concluded showed that many businesses in the city that switched to PS alternatives were saving money.

“Foam is recyclable, and cities all over California are taking advantage of this by setting up foam recycling programs,” said Javier Gonzalez, government affairs director for the California Restaurant Association, in a statement. “It is unfortunate that our city leaders opted for a ban, instead of progressing on behalf of San Jose’s residents and family-owned restaurant owners to create smart, well-planned options.”

According to Californians Against Waste, there are currently 71 other cities or counties that banned have PS containers for food service.

“Dozens of other cities have taken a stand against this problem material, which litters our environment, clogs our stormwater systems, and is difficult and expensive to recycle,” the organization said on its website.