Duarte Backs Away From Ban on Plastic Packaging of Food

Times Staff Writer

The Duarte City Council has shelved a proposal to ban the use of plastic foam or polystyrene food-packaging in restaurants.

“The impact on businesses was a concern for everyone,” Councilwoman Ginny Joyce said after the unanimous vote at Tuesday’s council meeting. Councilman John Fasana said he was still troubled that polystyrene is not biodegradable, but agreed he did not want to hurt local merchants.

The council originally targeted only polystyrene made with chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, for a ban, because of environmental concerns. CFCs have been shown to harm the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer. Also, polystyrene is not biodegradable and has a life of hundreds of years.

The Washington-based Environmental Action Foundation supports an ordinance that would require polystyrene recycling within a stated time frame and a ban if that deadline were not met, according to a report written by Duarte environmental consultant Terry Fitzgerald. Switching to paper as an alternative packaging material could cost consumers 5% more, Fitzgerald said.


Recycling Encouraged

After a two-hour public hearing in May, the Community Services Commission had urged the City Council to follow and encourage the polystyrene industry’s recycling efforts rather than impose a ban at this time.

At its July 11 meeting, the council heard testimony from the owner of the local McDonald’s franchise and a representative of the plastics industry. The council asked staff for more information representing the environmentalists’ side and postponed making a decision until Tuesday, at which time they decided against the ban.

The polystyrene industry is voluntarily phasing out the use of CFCs in the manufacturing of the packaging material.


John Marshall, a project manager with Dow Chemical U.S.A. and representative of the Polystyrene Packaging Council, told the commission at its May hearing that by the end of this year CFCs would no longer be used in the manufacture of 90% to 95% of food-packaging polystyrene.

Marshall also said that because the material is not hazardous and does not decompose, it would not pollute ground water or generate methane gas in landfills.

Pilot recycling projects funded by the plastics industry are also under way. Michael Mazrimas, a sales representative of Michigan-based DART Container Corp., told the City Council on July 11 that seven polystyrene manufacturers, including Mobil Chemical Co. and Amoco Chemical Co., are investing in five plants nationwide to recycle polystyrene. Recycling already takes place on the industrial level with clean scrap polystyrene.

A Plea for Time


“All we’re asking for is the time to develop the infrastructure,” said Dave Malone of Amoco.

RASTRA Building Systems plans to start recycling polystyrene into construction materials at its Riverside plant by early September, company President Stanley John told the commission.

He expects the plant to recycle three tons of polystyrene a day. “We need a constant supply,” John said.

“It seems like the industry is making a good-faith effort to take care of the problem on their own,” Mayor John Hitt said Wednesday, adding that the council a year from now would probably check on the progress made in recycling.


Several governments around the country have passed bans restricting the use of polystyrene.

Legislation banning polystyrene was supposed to go into effect this month in Suffolk County, N.Y., but the ordinance is being challenged in court.

Beginning July 1, 1990, all food-packaging plastics in Minneapolis and St. Paul must be either biodegradable or be recycled. Already some grocery stores are starting to use paper egg cartons, and some restaurants in the cities have switched from squeezable ketchup bottles to glass ones.

Since last year Berkeley, San Francisco and Los Angeles have banned the use of polystyrene made with CFCs.


The Los Angeles ban will take effect July 1.

Berkeley has also passed an ordinance that bans restaurant use of all polystyrene containers, beginning in 1990. The law urges merchants to ensure that at least half of their take-out food packaging be recyclable.

In Alhambra, a task force set up to consider a ban on polystyrene manufactured with CFCs recommended Monday that such a ban was not necessary. The committee of residents and plastics-industry representatives concluded that CFCs are not used in making most of the polystyrene available anyway, explained Beatrice Aranda, program coordinator and task force member.

POLYSTYRENE USE Production of polystyrene packaging from 1983-87 by weight: 1983: 1.49 billion lbs 1984: 1.54 billion lbs 1985: 1.29 billion lbs 1986: 1.36 billion lbs 1987 1.42 billion lbs Further breakdown for 1987: 915 million lbs: food containers (excluding disposable cups) 915 million lbs: disposable food serviceware, including cups 69 million lbs: bottles, jars and vials 36 million lbs: flexible packaging (i.e. bags and liners) 401 million lbs: all others Source: Council for Solid Waste Solutions