Quantcast
Politics

San Francisco Bans Styrofoam, Passes Nation’s Toughest Anti-Styrofoam Law

By Gwendolyn Wu

San Francisco residents will soon have to drink their to-go cups of coffee out of something else, because those soft Styrofoam cups will be no more.

The San Francisco County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a ban last week on the sale of polystyrene foam, popularly known by the trademarked name Styrofoam. Foam packing, cups and mooring buoys will be prohibited starting Jan. 1, 2017.

"I just passed the toughest anti-Styrofoam law in the country and we did it unanimously," Board of Supervisors President London Breed wrote on her Facebook page after the vote. "This is a huge step for our environment and health. San Francisco is on our way to leading the country on environmental policy—again!"

Breed spearheaded the latest ban, extending a 2006 ordinance that ordered prepared-food merchants to stop using all polystyrene containers. Plastic foam products for crafts and insulation will not be affected by the ban.

"The reason why this was passed is that it's not practically recyclable, causes a unique harm in the environment and there were better alternatives," Jack Macy, commercial zero waste senior coordinator for San Francisco's Department of the Environment, told TakePart.

Polystyrene disintegrates slowly in landfills, taking centuries to break down entirely. There are a few polystyrene recycling centers in San Francisco, such as GreenCitizen and Recology, but they can only make a small dent in the 25 billion polystyrene to-go cups Americans throw away annually.

While there's been promising research on worms that eat polystyrene, scientists need to study their waste to make sure whatever is processed is safe. Environmentalists are also concerned about polystyrene foam ending up in the water, where the material falls apart and can look like fish eggs to hungry predators.

"The main challenge posed by Styrofoam is that it breaks into tiny little pieces, especially outside in the sun when it photodegrades," Allison Chan, the Clean Bay Campaign manager for the Oakland, California–based organization Save the Bay, told TakePart. "It looks more and more like food and makes them feel full and really, they're malnourished and they can die from that condition."

Critics of the ban said it will hurt supermarkets that use polystyrene trays for meat by not giving them enough time to make a switch to other food-safe packaging. The Board of Supervisors granted grocers a six-month waiver, however, to find eco-friendly packaging for meats and fish.

The American Chemistry Council disagreed with the wording of the ban, which it believes ignores the positives of using the foam and makes an assumption that substituted packing materials will be recycled at a higher rate.

"We share the city's dual goals to increase the amount of material diverted from landfill disposal and reduce materials that may be inadvertently littered in the environment," the council wrote in a letter to Breed. "However, we respectfully oppose the ordinance as drafted."

The council also wrote that the Food and Drug Administration "has approved polystyrene for food contact applications and the food safety benefits of plastic foodservice packaging, including polystyrene, are undisputed. Its inherent insulation properties maintain food temperatures and help keep food fresh, hot or cold and ready-to-eat."

The polystyrene ban is part of San Francisco's comprehensive zero-waste plan. Taxing cigarette purchases to fund cleaning cigarette butts off sidewalks and requiring new buildings to have water-bottle filling stations are some of the city's other environmental policy initiatives. More than 100 cities, including Seattle, St. Louis and Miami, have banned polystyrene foam packaging partially or completely.

This article was reposted with permission from our media partner TakePart.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Renewable Energy
A prototype of GE's massive new wind turbine will be installed in the industrial area of Maasvlakte 2 in Rotterdam. GE Renewable Energy

World's Largest Wind Turbine to Test Its Wings in Rotterdam

Rotterdam's skyline will soon feature the world's largest and most powerful offshore wind turbine.

GE Renewable Energy announced on Wednesday it will install the first 12-megawatt Haliade-X prototype in the Dutch city this summer. Although it's an offshore wind turbine by design, the prototype will be installed onshore to facilitate access for testing.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Colorful, fresh organic vegetables. fcafotodigital / Getty Images

A New Diet for the Planet

By Tim Radford

An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, whole grains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor's orders, tomorrow's farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Children's books about the environment. U.S. Air Force photo / Karen Abeyasekere

This State Might Require Public Schools to Teach Climate Change

Reading, writing, arithmetic ... and climate science. That doesn't have the same ring as the "three Rs" of education, but Connecticut could one day require the subject to be on the curriculum, The Associated Press reported.

A Connecticut state lawmaker is pushing a bill to mandate the teaching of climate change in public schools throughout the state, starting in elementary school.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
NASA's ICESCAPE mission investigates the changing conditions in the Arctic. NASA / Kathryn Hansen

These Eye-Opening Memes Show the Real 10-Year Challenge

Before-and-after photos of your friends have probably taken over your Facebook and Instagram feeds, but environmentalists are using the #10YearChallenge to insert a dose of truth.

Memes of shrinking glaciers, emaciated polar bears and coral bleaching certainly subvert the feel-good viral sensation, but these jarring images really show our planet in a worrying state of flux.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Vial containing swab from a deceased duck, collected for testing during the 2014-2015 avian influenza outbreak. © 2015 Erica Cirino, used with permission.

Could Trump’s Government Shutdown Cause Outbreaks of Wildlife Disease?

By Erica Cirino

The current U.S. government shutdown could worsen ongoing wildlife disease outbreaks or even delay responses to new epidemics, according to federal insiders and outside experts who work with federal wildlife employees.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Vegan raw cheese from cashew nuts. byheaven/ iStock / Getty Images

Vegan Cheese: What’s the Best Dairy-Free Option?

By Ansley Hill, RD, LD

Cheese is one of the most beloved dairy products across the globe. In the U.S. alone, each person consumes more than 38 pounds (17 kg) of cheese per year, on average (1).

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Insights/Opinion
Sun setting behind the Fawley Oil Refinery in Fawley, England. Clive G' / CC BY-ND 2.0

Even Davos Elite Warns Humanity Is 'Sleepwalking Into Catastrophe'

By Jessica Corbett

Ahead of the World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland next week—which convenes the world's wealthiest and most powerful for a summit that's been called both the "money Oscars" and a "threat to democracy"—the group published a report declaring, "Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe."

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Robusta coffee beans growing on a tree. Dag Sundberg / Getty Images

60% of Wild Coffee Species at Risk for Extinction

If humans don't wake up now to the threats posed by climate change and habitat loss, we may be in for a permanently sleepy future. A study led by scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew found that 60 percent of wild coffee species are at risk for extinction.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!