Introduction and first reading of an ordinance banning nonrecyclable plastic disposable food service containers in the City of Santa Monica was withdrawn at the last minute from the City Council agenda Tuesday, November 14th, but is expected to return to the agenda soon.

The ordinance was “pulled because some questions were raised about the need of environmental impact reports,” said Dean Kubani, environmental programs manager for the City of Santa Monica. “The city attorney’s office decided to pull the item just to make sure everything was being done properly before it brought it to the council.”

Basically, it was a “technicality,” Kubani said.

The ban is in the works in response to growing concerns about the environmental and economic impact of such containers on beach and marine environments.

An investigation by city staff of the potential costs and benefits of banning such food service packaging in Santa Monica was requested by City Council in March last year, and after investigation, city staff recommended that the council adopt an ordinance banning expanded polystyrene (EPS) from all public, private and nonprofit entities in the City.

City Council asked city staff on June 13th this year to prepare an ordinance banning expanded polystyrene plastic containers after hearing the findings of the investigation.

Expanded polystyrene is commonly known under the trademark name Styrofoam, said Kubani.

“It’s what people generically call Styrofoam,” Kubani said.

Studies have documented the prevalence of expanded polystyrene debris in the environment and its significant negative environmental impact on beaches and the marine environment, Kubani said.

“Expanded polystyrene and nonrecyclable plastics make up the majority of the waste that ends up on the beach and the marine environment,” Kubani said.

The ordinance would apply to all food providers, including but not limited to restaurants, delis, grocery stores, nonprofit and for-profit organizations, and groups and individuals that serve food prepared in Santa Monica, Kubani said.

The ordinance would prohibit the dispensing of prepared food to customers in disposable food service containers made from nonrecyclable plastic, including expanded and clear polystyrene and require that all disposable food service containers be made from biodegradable materials, Santa Monica officials say.

Food service containers are defined as “single-use disposable products used in the restaurant and food service industry for serving or transporting prepared, ready-to-consume food or beverages.” This includes plates, bowls, cups, trays and hinged or lidded containers, but not single-use disposable items such as straws, utensils or cup lids or single-use disposable packaging for unprepared foods, Kubani said.

Adopting the ordinance would cost the city approximately $31,000 annually, Kubani said.

The provisions of the ordinance would go into effect one year after City Council adopted it, and the director of the environmental and public works management would have primary responsibility for enforcement.

For first violations, a warning would be written and issued. For subsequent violations, a fine in increasing amounts between $100 and $500 would be issued, Kubani said.

“I think the ordinance will have a positive environmental effect for Santa Monica’s beaches,” said Kubani, who was asked by City Council to evaluate what effects this ordinance would have with his staff. “We’re making the recommendation the council adopt it.”

Several cities have already adopted citywide bans on expanded polystyrene, including Malibu and Oakland.

Still, some are concerned about finding alternatives to expanded polystyrene plastic foam, one of the least expensive food packaging products.

However, since the ordinance wouldn’t take effect for a year, it would “allow [city] staff to work with affected businesses to identify alternatives and vendors that provide alternatives,” Kubani said.

Some alternatives include paper, aluminum, rigid plastic and bio-products manufactured from corn starch, sugar cane and other products.

In addition to banning all nonrecyclable plastic disposable food service containers, city staff was considering imposing a tax or fee on plastic carry-out bags or requiring stores to collect, transport or recycle plastic bags.

However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation in September that prohibits any California city from enacting measures involving plastic bags until 2013.