SF’s new Styrofoam ban is strictest in the nation

San Francisco on Tuesday adopted the nation’s most extensive ban on polystyrene foam, known by the brand name Styrofoam.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to outlaw polystyrene food packaging, plates, cups, egg cartons, coolers, to-go containers, pool toys, beach toys, packing peanuts, dock floats and buoys as of Jan. 1, 2017. Polystyrene meat and fish trays will be banned July 1, 2017.

The ban is “the right balance between small business and protecting the environment,” said Board of Supervisors President London Breed, who introduced the legislation.

The ban expands upon Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s 2006 legislation that prohibited the use of polystyrene containers in San Francisco restaurants, which, he said, used an estimated seven million pounds per year at the time.

“I’m delighted that San Francisco continues to be a leader on the environmental issues of our day as we’ve got plastic floatin’ in our ocean the size of Texas,” Peskin told the San Francisco Examiner. He co-sponsored the new ban.

Polystyrene foam never biodegrades, pollutes waterways and is manufactured from chemicals like styrene that leach into food and drinks from to-go containers. Styrene is linked to cancer, developmental disorders and causes harm to the human reproductive system. When it’s littered, wildlife mistake the foam for fish eggs and eat the broken, indigestible chunks.

A new study found the world’s oceans will contain more plastic than fish in 2050 unless significant changes happen, according to the World Economic Forum and McKinsey and Company. Most comes from packaging.

Just 0.2 percent of polystyrene is recycled worldwide today and only with great difficulty and expense. Recology does not accept it in the blue recycling bins.

The ban will make no impact at Forest Restaurant Supply on Cesar Chavez Street, said one employee. The 2006 ban hardly made a difference there either.

“We didn’t even carry it in the store, it had to be special order,” she said.

Tenderloin small business owner Brett Walker said banning polystyrene “should be a no brainer.”

“How about just making the cost of compostable goods way the fuck cheaper?” said Walker, who owns George & Lennie coffee shop on Golden Gate Avenue and Hyde Street.

His customer Jason Rail, a hairdresser and consultant, considers it a thing of the past already. “I don’t even see it that much. I see more plastic bags,” he said.

Michaela Payne
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Michaela Payne

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