Council: No ban on Styrofoam

A small Styrofoam cup is discarded along Beach Boulevard, just south of Slater Avenue, in Huntington Beach on Tuesday.
(KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent)
<i>This post has been corrected, as noted below.</i>

The Huntington Beach City Council will not ban polystyrene food packaging from the city.

The proposal, first raised in October, failed Tuesday on a 4-3 vote. Mayor Pro Tem Joe Shaw and Councilwomen Connie Boardman and Jill Hardy voted for the ban.

Dozens of people flooded the council chambers to voice their opinions on the controversial proposed ordinance, which would have barred restaurants from using white food containers, plates and cups made out of expanded polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam.

Supporters of the ban said the product is harmful to the environment and a health hazard to animals and humans. Those against it, mainly business owners, argued that switching over to an environmentally friendlier alternative would cut into their profits.

Councilmen Dave Sullivan and Jim Katapodis said small businesses are still working their way out of the recession.

Sullivan said such a ban “would be a slap in the face.”

“It’s just hard for me, with all the restaurant people that I’ve talked to, to support the ban on Styrofoam,” Katapodis said. “I agree with council member Sullivan. People are just climbing back into making a little bit of a profit, and I don’t know if the timing is right for this thing.”

Mayor Matthew Harper, who has opposed a ban since the idea was first raised, had the same concerns regarding the ban on plastic bags, which was approved last year.

He wanted to know how the city would gauge the efficacy of a prohibition and worried that the city would be falling into a habit of banning various products.

“Is this the missing piece? Is this the end?” Harper said. “Or is this just yet another step to yet another ban and other ban and other ban after that.…What is this going to lead to?”

He added that the proposed ordinance would be another example of “government manipulation” and taking away freedom.

Hardy, like many others who supported the ban, said she is more than happy to pay extra for a meal served or packaged in something other than polystyrene because of health issues that some suspect are related to the product.

“Twenty cents on my meal is not worth whatever toxins are in our ecosystem,” she said. “I’m willing to pay that 20 cents, 50 cents, whatever it is, over and over and over, because it’s a lot cheaper than the medical bills I’ll probably be facing.”

Jethro Naude, co-owner of the seafood restaurant Slapfish, said his business hasn’t used polystyrene products since it started as a food truck in 2011. Since the opening of the brick-and-mortar location in 2012, the restaurant has been certified as a green business.

“We’ve never used Styrofoam in the history of our business and we never will,” he said. “As a mom-and-pop or even smaller than a mom-and-pop, I can tell you right now that 10 cents is not a lot of money when it comes to the actual dish cost of the restaurant.”

Naude, an economist, added that he would be willing to help other business owners with their business model to identify their costs.

Boardman, who is a biology professor at Cerritos College, said it’s clear that the polystyrene found on the beach doesn’t entirely originate from Huntington Beach.

The City Council doesn’t have jurisdiction in other municipalities, she said, but Surf City could at least do its part in reducing polystyrene in the environment.

Hardy concurred with her colleague, adding that a concerted effort with other cities and states would be the best way to tackle the issue.

“It’s difficult to measure the effect of one single city, but the effort here is to be part of a larger effect,” she said.

[For the record, 10:10 a.m. Jan. 23: An earlier version of this story reported that the proposed ban included food containers, cup lids and utensils made from polystyrene. The proposed ban actually only relates to items made from expanded polystyrene, like white food containers, plates and cups.]