SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The South Lake Tahoe City Council is once again considering a variety of bans or restrictions on polystyrene — the synthetic material most commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam used in packaging at restaurants for takeout orders and at other retail stores.
City staff presented possible tiers of a polystyrene ban for discussion at a council meeting last week. These tiers range from a ban only eliminating polystyrene takeout food containers to one that prohibits the sale of products packaged with polystyrene, like egg cartons and meat at grocery stores.
In 2013, the City Council discussed banning single-use plastic bags and polystyrene at retail establishments. Though the city moved forward with a ban on plastic single-use carryout bags — later bolstered by a statewide ban on plastic bags — no action was taken to prohibit polystyrene.
Environmentalists have long criticized polystyrene for its lengthy lifetime in landfills and impact on the environment and wildlife, the Tahoe Daily Tribune reported .
The Council requested staff bring back more information on how the various tiers might impact local businesses.
“I just want to make sure we look hard at unintended consequences,” said Tom Davis, a councilmember.
The League to Save Lake Tahoe spoke out in support of a ban.
“This year alone we hosted 17 organized cleanup efforts and just with polystyrene, which is expanded foam, we found 2,000 pieces,” said Marilee Movius, community engagement manager for the League. “This does not include other plastics that we also found, which is over 16,000 pieces.”
Movius also noted that polystyrene is considered the fifth-largest source of hazardous waste in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency.
American Chemistry Council, an industry trade company for chemical companies, wrote to the council, objecting any sort of ban.
“This ordinance falsely assumes that banning one type of food packaging material will result in a reduction in litter; overlooks many environmental benefits associated with polystyrene food service containers; (and) incorrectly assumes biodegradable or compostable alternatives have a lower footprint on the environment,” wrote Tim Shestek, senior director of State Affairs for American Chemistry Council.
Shestek also asserted that any ban would impose higher operating costs on restaurants, especially smaller businesses — an opinion shared by the California Restaurant Association.
More than 100 cities have enacted polystyrene bans around the country, including Seattle, Portland and New York City.
South Lake Tahoe City Council will revisit the polystyrene ban topic at a future meeting.
Information from: Tahoe Daily Tribune, http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/