With strong backing from the city’s environmentalists, Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday introduced a ban on polystyrene containers intended for distribution of prepared food in the city.
In a 3-0 vote, with Councilmen Mark Burton and Tony D’Errico abstaining, the Council supported the ordinance through its first reading. The ordinance will appear on the consent calendar at the Sep. 3 City Council meeting for a second reading and adoption. If the vote passes, the ban will be effective after 30 days.
Polystyrene is a disposable thermoplastic petrochemical material commonly used for food and drink containers. The ordinance as introduced outlaws two types of polystyrene – clear plastic and foam, commonly known as Styrofoam.
As such, those impacted by the ban would include restaurants, grocery stores, drive-thrus and coffee shops in the city. Manhattan Beach Unified School District is exempt from the ban, though elementary schools in the city have already switched to alternate materials like paper and plastic.
Sona Coffee, the city’s environmental program manager, urged the Council on Tuesday to join the 70-plus cities in California, including Santa Monica, Hermosa Beach and Santa Cruz, to outlaw the material for its negative impact on both health and the environment.
“Polystyrene pollution is prevalent in the marine environment,” Coffee said, “and as a coastal community, this form of pollution is of serious concern to our residents and local businesses, as noted in several community-wide surveys.”
Because polystyrene containers contaminated with food are not recyclable, they either end up in the landfill or in our ocean, she explained. Nonprofit environmental group Heal the Bay’s marine debris database documented more than 8,400 pieces of polystyrene collected during the last three coastal cleanup events, she said.
Coffee offered another incentive: The Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board is increasingly holding cities accountable for the debris that ends up in the ocean.
But with Manhattan Beach’s ban on plastic bags, impending ban on public smoking and this polystyrene ban, the city would be eligible for a three-year extension to meet the Board’s Total Maximum Daily Load regulations.
“It’s unsettling to me that we’re still allowing this,” said Nancy Hastings, the Southern California regional manager of Surfrider Foundation. She cited a 2004 report from the National Toxicology Program which documented cancer in workers exposed to Styrene as well as changes in their DNA.
From the other side, Sarah Sheehy of the California Grocer’s Association urged Council to exempt the clear polystyrene from the ban, saying it could have “devastating effects” on local grocery stores. The estimated cost difference of $0.01 between polystyrene containers and alternatives is a “huge deal in [her] industry” and would result in higher prices for customers, she said.
Plus, the more expensive alternatives are not reusable and still create litter, Sheehy said.
Mike Zislis of the Zislis Group welcomed the ban and said his Manhattan Beach businesses, including Shade Hotel, The Strand House, Rock ‘N Fish and Circa, are one step ahead of the game. They stopped using Polystyrene food containers six, seven years ago, he said, when then-mayor Portia Cohen brought it to his attention.
“It’s real easy for us as a business to buy compostable, to-go containers,” Zislis said. “It’s not a challenge at all.”
The city can go even farther, Coffee said. This ordinance, modeled after that of Hermosa Beach passed last year, could be expanded to include Polystyrene straws, cup lids, utensils and foam coolers, which are often thrown off boats into the ocean.
The majority of Council members were hesitant to do so, citing concerns for small “mom-and-pop” shops in the city unable to afford the switch as well as a lack of data on available and cost-efficient alternatives.
As part of the motion made by Mayor Pro Tem Amy Howorth, the Council directed staff to return in six months with more information on the environmental impacts and alternatives for cup lids, straws, coolers and more.
“I’d probably be in favor of going further, but I appreciate the need for wanting more research,” Howorth said.