San Francisco is poised to become the second city in the United States to not only ban restaurants from using polystyrene food-service products, but also require them to use biodegradable/compostable or recyclable products if they are an affordable alternative.
But the San Francisco ordinance - virtually a lock to be adopted by the board of supervisors Nov. 21, as it passed 11-0 at its first reading a week earlier and has nine co-sponsors - goes one step beyond the measure passed by Oakland, Calif., which goes into effect Jan. 1.
While the Oakland law requires the use of biodegradable and compostable containers if they are available at the same price, the San Francisco law - which is scheduled to go into effect June 1 - requires their use even if there is a price premium, as long as it does not exceed 15 percent.
The ban continues a growing trend in California to solve the litter problem through product bans, particularly on types of food packaging that are not recycled frequently, and to achieve goals that the state and various cities have set for zero waste in the future. According to the California Integrated Waste Management Board, PS foam products account for 15 percent of litter collected in storm drains.
Because the measure has the support of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, it is unlikely that there will be a legal challenge despite opposition from the California Restaurant Association and the Polystyrene Packaging Council, which is part of the American Plastics Council in Arlington, Va.
``Most of our members stopped using polystyrene years ago, and in a city that prides itself on being green, supporting a ban is not a difficult decision,'' said former restaurant owner Kevin Westlye, executive director of GGRA. ``Those products are not recyclable and it is one step in the right direction'' to reduce litter problems, he said, adding that many restaurants have switched to wax-coated paper products and bleached paperboard.
He said the ordinance will have the most impact on restaurants that serve coffee and soups, but added that some already have switched to cardboard cups that have a corrugated paper sleeve over them. The June implementation date was a compromise by the city to give such businesses time to use up their inventories of PS products, many of which have pre-printed corporate logos. It originally had been intended to go into effect Jan. 1
The support for the law from GGRA ``makes it difficult for us to make a case that there is a negative economic impact,'' said Michael Levy, executive director of the PPC, which has been successful in delaying similar bans with requirements for use of biodegradable/compostable products from going into effect in Santa Monica and Calabasas, Calif. Nearly 100 cities in the U.S have PS container bans. ``Anytime there is a ban on a product like ours, it sends a bad message,'' Levy said.
The measure applies to restaurants, retail food vendors, city departments, and contractors and lessees that do business with the city. It targets disposable containers, bowls, plates, trays, cartons, cups, lids, forks and spoons designed for single use and for takeout foods or leftovers. It does not apply to meats, fish and poultry that grocery stores sell in PS foam containers.
``It is aimed at disposable, one-time food-use polystyrene foam containers,'' said David Noyola, a staff assistant to board of supervisors member Aaron Peskin, who introduced the bill five months ago. City officials estimate 7 million pounds of PS are used annually in San Francisco
Levy said the ban will not solve litter problems, and manufacturers of products made of other types of plastics also will be affected.
``Polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride products will also be affected by the San Francisco ordinance because it requires the use of degradable or compostable products,'' said Levy.
Cities like San Francisco and Oakland ``need to try to get at litter sources and measure where it is coming from. Even with the ban, they will still have to deal with litter in San Francisco,'' he said.
``We can help cities deal with solid waste litter and we are willing to do a lot of things,'' to help, said Levy, ``but if a product is banned, it is difficult for us to be a player'' in that arena.
He also contended that the overall life cycle and environmental costs associated with PS containers are ``as good, if not better'' than bleached paperboard, but that those arguments are not resonating with legislators.
``The issue seems to be overtaken by the emotions'' and desire to do something about litter, he said. ``That is the frustration.''