San Diego’s ban on polystyrene foam products takes effect Friday, forcing many local restaurants and other businesses to change what they use for packaging.
Some businesses are still seeking exemptions or waivers from the law.
The ban, approved by the City Council in January, makes it illegal to sell or distribute egg cartons, cups and food containers made in whole or in part from polystyrene foam.
That includes bowls, plates, trays, lids and other items designed for one-time use for prepared foods, including containers for dine-in food, takeout and leftovers to take home.
City officials say the goal of the legislation, which 120 other California cities have adopted, is to reduce waste that is not biodegradable and to keep foam out of local waterways, where marine wildlife can mistake it for food.
“The restrictions on foam and plastics are a win for our entire city and are the direct result of environmental organizations, businesses and residents working together,” said Councilman Chris Ward, who spearheaded the legislation.
A preliminary phase of the ban took effect Feb. 23. That phase made it illegal to distribute plastic utensils or straws unless requested by customers, and it banned retailers from selling most foam coolers, pool toys and buoys.
Friday marks the beginning of the most controversial element, the ban on foam food containers, which has divided local restaurants and prompted a lawsuit by the California Restaurant Association and a manufacturer of foam products.
Many restaurants that have already eliminated foam products have expressed strong support for the ban, while many eateries still using foam products claim the change will damage their businesses.
Nearly all national and regional restaurant chains long ago stopped using polystyrene in response to lobbying from environmental groups and backlash from customers concerned that foam isn’t biodegradable.
But many taco shops, pizza parlors, convenience stores and other small businesses continue to use foam products to save money.
The lawsuit filed by the restaurant association contends San Diego failed to properly analyze all of the ban’s effects on the environment. Because the suit didn’t seek an injunction, the ban is taking effect — at least temporarily.
Meanwhile, city officials have launched an aggressive outreach campaign to educate businesses about the ban and have begun approving waivers for many affected businesses.
For example, local grocery stores and food suppliers recently got a two-year waiver from the city for foam meat trays used in most packaging of seafood, beef and other meats.
A pork products distributor also received a separate one-year waiver. Both those waivers were based on contentions it wasn’t feasible to shift away from foam as quickly as the city is mandating.
Four additional feasibility waivers have been granted. Three short-term waivers were given to egg producers and distributors to let them transition to acceptable alternative products. And a three-month waiver was granted to a Vietnamese restaurant for the same purpose.
The city also is reviewing two more waiver applications, one from a Mexican restaurant and one from a barbecue restaurant, based on contractual obligations they have with foam product suppliers.
In addition, any business with a gross annual income of less than $500,000 is automatically exempt through February 2020.
The city’s outreach campaign, which began in February, included posts on the city website, emails to more than 500 affected organizations and a bilingual flier sent to more than 8,500 local businesses.
In advance of the full ban taking effect Friday, city officials sent another series of emails, posted on social media, issued a news release and developed print-ready posters available on its website.
The foam ban calls for fines of $200 for a first offense, $350 for a second offense in the same 12-month period, and $500 for a third offense during that time frame.
The three local restaurants involved in the lawsuit are Mariscos El Golosito in Sherman Heights and two in Logan Heights: Orlando’s Taco Shop and Antojitos Colombianos.
Citing the ongoing litigation, those restaurants and the restaurant association declined to comment Thursday on the ban taking effect.
Other cities that banned polystyrene foam include Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar and Imperial Beach. San Diego is the only city in the state that has been sued over the legislation.
The foam ban basics
Q: What products does San Diego’s polstyrene ban affect?
Q: What are the potential penalties?Q: What is the goal?
- Rocky Long steps down, Brady Hoke named next head coach at San Diego State
- First US evacuee from China to develop coronavirus was MISTAKENLY released from San Diego hospital after initial test was negative as it becomes 13th case in the US as global death toll tops 1,000
- Coronavirus live updates: CDC confirms new coronavirus case in San Diego, 13th case in U.S.
- AB5, California’s landmark gig-work law, takes effect Jan. 1 amid controversy
- Coronavirus – Passenger on evacuation flight from Wuhan to San Diego is 13th confirmed US case as death toll hits 1,000
- Frozen margaritas and carne asada fries at the Wooden Nickel, San Francisco’s finest San Diego-style bar
- San Diego Bishop: ‘Death Toll’ from Climate Change Worse Than Abortion
- First case of coronavirus confirmed in San Diego, California: Report
- First Confirmed Case Of Coronavirus Reported In San Diego
- Photos: San Antonians celebrate Mardi Gras at First Friday Pub Run