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Arroyo Seco Foundation

News of the Arroyo


Pasadena backs citywide ban of polystyrene for food





<b>May 10, 2016</b> - It's been a long fight, but it's over. The Pasadena City Council has unanimously voted to ban styrofoam.<b></b> -


Jason Henry, San Gabriel Valley Tribune


Pasadena Star-News


Pasadena will ban polystyrene food containers after a years long grassroots effort to get rid of the foam packaging.

The restrictions affect restaurants, grocers and caterers who use the nonbiodegradable material to package prepared food.

The exact language of the ordinance will come back to the City Council within 60 days, but the push to regulate polystyrene found unanimous support from the governing board’s members. They all agreed the environmental damage caused by the foam outweighed polystyrene’s low-cost ability to keep “hot foods hot” and “cold foods cold.”

“What you have done is remind us that we have to look at the ‘full cost’ of these products,” said Mayor Terry Tornek to a crowd of several dozen supporters.

The city will delay the implementation for financially strapped small businesses and for companies with existing contracts to use polystyrene. The ordinance won’t apply to packaging for uncooked meat, poultry, fish, eggs or fresh produce, according to a staff report.

Once the ordinance is finalized, food providers will have a year to comply.

City staff estimates the switch to plastic and paper alternatives will run about 4 cents per unit. That might add up to nearly $20,000 annually for some of the city’s most popular takeout joints, but for the average dine-in restaurant it will come in at a less than $3,000 hit per year, according to Gabriel Silva, Pasadena’s environmental programs manager.

“The problem with polystyrene is that it is a very durable material, it doesn’t biodegrade,” Silva said.

But it does break up into hard to clean up chunks that float downriver and get consumed by fish and other animals, he said.

Supporters say the ban helps Pasadena reach a “zero waste” pledge made in 2014. Polystyrene litter has turned up in the Arroyo Seco River and other nature areas, where environmentalists say it threatens wildlife.

The city’s trash haulers do not recycle the material because of the cost, so the packaging often ends up in landfills, according to Silva.

More than 90 cities in California have adopted some form of polystyrene ban, with Berkeley leading the way in the 1980s.

Opponents at the City Council meeting said the ban would hurt small businesses and fail to have a lasting impact because the waste generated by polystyrene would get replaced by its alternatives, many of which contain plastic.

Veronica Perez, representing the California Restaurant Association, said the ban will hurt businesses’ bottom line. The city’s and state’s increased minimum wage, the addition of paid sick leave and the Affordable Care Act have already created strains, she said.

“They’re also having to raise their prices to deal with all of these government mandates,” she said.

It’s not just the cost of replacing polystyrene, but the loss of functionality that also concerns businesses, Perez noted. None of the paper or plastic alternatives are as effective at keeping consistent temperatures and protecting against leakage, she said.




Arroyo Seco Foundation, PO Box 91622, Pasadena, CA 91109-1622 (323) 405-7326