On Saturday, February 9th, a nonrecyclable food container ban passed by the Santa Monica City Council over a year ago will take effect throughout the city.
No longer will restaurants and other food service providers in the city be able to use nonrecyclable or polystyrene food containers. Only those that are recyclable and biodegradable will be allowed in the city.
The ordinance bans nonrecyclable food containers — including clear and expanded polystyrene (EPS) — from all public, private and nonprofit entities in Santa Monica. One brand of expanded polystyrene is what many know as Styrofoam, with recycling number 6.
This ordinance prohibits the dispensing of prepared food to customers in disposable food service containers — plates, bowls, cups, trays and hinged or lidded containers — made from nonrecyclable plastic, including polystyrene.
The law took effect February 9th last year for city facilities and its managed concessions, as well as for events permitted or sponsored by the city.
However, the ordinance was not scheduled to go into effect until this year for the 600 food-related businesses in the city to “allow [city] staff to work with affected businesses to identify alternatives and vendors that provide alternatives,” said Dean Kubani, environmental programs manager for the City of Santa Monica.
That time has now come for Santa Monica to join several cities that have adopted similar citywide bans, including Malibu, San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Barbara.
The nonrecyclable ban was initiated in response to growing concerns about the environmental and economic impact of nonrecyclable containers on beach and marine environments.
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.
In fact, marine animals can get entangled in plastic debris in the ocean and mistake the debris for natural food, causing death.
When the ordinance was passed last year, many residents were pleased, but some members of the community expressed concerns about finding alternatives to plastic foam, one of the least expensive food packaging products available.
“The big concern is that people are worried about change; they’re worried about price,” said Josephine Miller, an environmental analyst for Santa Monica’s Environmental Programs Division.
Miller was brought on board last year to help educate food-related businesses about the ban, help answer questions and find alternatives. She says she has been in touch with every food-related business in Santa Monica through letters or by telephone.
There are many alternatives available, including paper, aluminum, rigid plastic and bio-products manufactured from cornstarch, sugar cane and other products. There are also dozens of distributors, including some in the local area.
It’s true that alternatives are more expensive, but Miller notes that prices of biodegradable and recyclable food service containers are going down because there is “such a market for them.”
Many restaurants in Santa Monica have already made the switch to recyclable food service containers. Ocean Park CafÈ, Border Grill, The Counter, Library Alehouse and Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery are but a few of them.
Some — like Euphoria Loves Rawvolution CafÈ and Zabies — have voluntarily used recyclable food containers for years. Referring to the ban finally going into effect, Euphoria Loves Rawvolution co-owner (with her husband Matt) Janabei Amsden said, “Yay! I’m really happy. I’m just happy for the planet. It seems like the consciousness is growing exponentially at the moment around environmental issues.
“I’m really excited, but I think it’s just the beginning of changing consumer habits.”
Euphoria is a raw, organic, vegan cafÈ that has been open for two years and has used biodegradable food containers since the beginning.
Amsden notes that, because the products are all organic, the food costs are “astronomically higher” than in a conventional restaurant.
“And we’re doing fine,” she says. “If we can succeed financially with using these more expensive alternatives, restaurants just have to change their strategy a little bit.”
For those concerned with the costs of alternatives, Amsden says, “It’s literally pennies and that cost can be passed on to the consumer.”
Besides, Amsden notes, “Plastic is going to be more expensive in the end, maybe in intangible events. Plastic is being artificially subsidized by the environment. The true cost is being paid by the environment and it’s going to affect all of us within five to ten years.”
Courtenay Wendell, general manager of Border Grill — which has been using nonrecyclable food containers since October — says the staff of the restaurant was excited to make the switch.
“It really makes sense for us to be behind this,” Wendall says. “Our company values are very focused on the environment and the community and we’re very pleased to be a part of this.”
Wendell thinks Santa Monica’s “aggressive leap” to ban nonrecyclables is “phenomenal,” but she did note that some things about making the switch are “very difficult.”
“The product is much more expensive and there are limited products, but you find ways around it,” she said. “It’s totally worth it. I think at some point you’ve got to have these moments of inconvenience to actually change the way we do things.”