Barring a reversal in a second vote next month, Hermosa Beach will become the 65th city in California — and the first in the South Bay area — to ban expanded polystyrene takeout food-service ware.
Over the objections of the California Grocers Association, the ban also will apply to clear and oriented PS packaging used by grocery stores for items such as cooked rotisserie chickens, single pieces of cake and six-packs of muffins.
“The grocers association doesn't have a problem with that [PS] ban,” said Sarah Sheehy, the group's government relations director for Southern California, in testimony at the Aug. 14 council meeting, where the bill passed in a 3-1 vote. “Our concern is the inclusion of clear PS or oriented PS [as] that could have a devastating impact” for grocery stores.
“These containers are recyclable and are different from the lighter-weight styrofoam product,” Sheehy said. “We are very concerned that this would negatively impact [stores] due to added costs of different packaging [and put them] at a competitive disadvantage over grocery stories in nearby areas.”
Hermosa Beach, with a population of 20,000, is sandwiched between Manhattan Beach and Redondo Beach.
However, council member Peter Tucker dismissed those concerns, saying “there are alternatives … that can be used for those same purposes,” specifically PET and polyethylene packaging.
“We are not asking any manufacturer to go and invent new kinds of packaging. It's already there on the shelf. It's already there.”
In addition, Hermosa Beach community development director Ken Robertson pointed out that about one-third of the current PS food-service packaging bans in California also include clear and oriented PS.
Craig Cadwallader, chairman of the Rise Above Plastics committee of the South Bay chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, agreed. “We are not anti-business. I'm pro responsible businesses,” Cadwallader told the council.
Changing from PS to alternative products not only will protect the environment but will help businesses, he said — pointing to the restaurant industry's own surveys that indicate “restaurants that are more responsible to the environment are more profitable.”
The Hermosa Beach ban is scheduled to go into effect in early March — 180 days after the second vote, set for Sept. 11. It applies to plates, bowls, trays, wrappers, wrappings, platters, cartons, condiment containers, cups and drinkware — but not cup lids, straws or utensils.
There also is an exemption for PS packaging used for raw meat, poultry, fish and eggs; fresh produce; food provided by the city school district in its official food-service program; and food that is prepared or packaged outside city limits.
The last exemption was opposed by mayor pro tem Kit Bobko, who voted against the ban.
“We need to ban it [as] we want to keep PS off the beach,” Bobko said. He said that particular exemption allows people to purchase products elsewhere and bring them to the beach and city parks, where they can end up as litter and marine debris.
“I would look for effective ways to do things, not just symbolic ones,” Bobko said, adding that the definition of PS in the ordinance was overly complicated “and virtually impossible to interpret.”
The Plastic Foodservice Packaging Group of the Washington-based American Chemistry Council also objected to the ban, in an Aug. 13 letter to the city.
“There is no basis for this proposal,” wrote Ryan Kenny, ACC's manager of state affairs.
“It does not address the underlying behavioral causes of litter, and substituting polystyrene with other food-contact materials could have significant environmental consequences, most notably contributing to the greenhouse gas problem,” he wrote. “There are much better targeted, more effective ways to address litter and landfill diversion goals.”
Kenny said PFPG and its members “welcome the opportunity ... to implement anti-litter, recycling and composting efforts” for all Food and Drug Administration-approved food-service packaging, including polystyrene.
Specifically, ACC pointed to a 2008 report done for the city of Seattle by Herrera Environmental Consultants, which said a PS food-service ban in that city would increase greenhouse gas emissions by 234 percent and increase the use of non-renewable energy by 214 percent. However, despite that report, Seattle passed a ban on PS food-service packaging that went into effect in January 2009.