San Diego joined 119 other California cities on Tuesday by banning polystyrene food and beverage containers, which have been blamed for poisoning fish and other marine life and damaging the health of people who eat seafood.
The City Council approved the ban by a 6-3 vote along party lines, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposed.
Democrats said the ban would fight climate change and clean up beaches while having a relatively minimal effect on restaurants because it includes waivers of up to two years for businesses with annual gross incomes of less than $500,000.
Republicans said the ban may be politically popular, but it won’t improve the environment much while placing a burdensome requirement on small businesses.
The two-year waivers would also be available to businesses that use polystyrene products for which there is no environmentally friendly replacement and for businesses that previously made long-term agreements with suppliers of polystyrene products.
Many local restaurants, especially small eateries with one or two locations, have lobbied against the ban and encouraged the city to focus instead on recycling the polystyrene, which is commonly though inaccurately called Styrofoam.
A group of polystyrene manufacturers also questioned Tuesday whether the city properly analyzed the environmental impacts of the ban, which could be grounds for litigation.
Councilman Chris Ward said that none of the other California cities that have passed such bans conducted the kind of full environmental impact review that the manufacturers want.
In addition to food containers used by restaurants, the ban would apply to polystyrene egg cartons, coolers, ice chests, pool toys, dock floats and mooring buoys. Retail stores would also be banned from selling such products.
The legislation would also require restaurants to make plastic utensils and straws available only upon request, a provision aimed at reducing the amount of single-use plastic products in landfills.
Polystyrene bans have previously been approved by three other San Diego County cities: Encinitas, Solana Beach and Imperial Beach.