Commentary: Styrofoam ban doesn't make sense

As cities in Orange County and across California discuss banning styrofoam, the debate on each side of the argument is starting to emerge.

Being a lifelong surfer and a conservationist who is concerned about our environment and our oceans, I understand what the cities are trying to accomplish with these styrofoam bans. Unfortunately, a ban on styrofoam has unintended repercussions for Californians.

Better policies are implemented when there is a robust conversation and the big picture is considered, rather than policy makers narrowly focusing on a single aspect of an issue. Simply put, this ban would limit consumer choice and negatively impact our local businesses. In addition, it does not properly address the true issue at hand.

The proposed ordinance being considered in Huntington Beach is an ill-advised attempt at social engineering by imposing costly and burdensome requirements on the residents of the community.

Our focus should be on making it as user-friendly and convenient as possible for people to utilize the recycling programs already in place. That is why I support the recycling programs that the city has embraced, such as curbside recycling on foam products including cups, takeout containers and packaging.

In one year, Huntington Beach's local disposal company has recycled more than 30 tons of foam. That is more than 60,000 pounds of foam that did not go into our landfills. Instead, the recycled foam is sent to a Southern California company that reuses it to make picture frames, crown molding and even surfboards.

What is more symbolic of the eco-conscious community of Surf City than a surfboard made of recycled material?

This is why I am concerned about an upcoming proposal that would ban styrofoam products. It does not make sense to ban a product that is successfully being recycled. If this ban was to be enacted, foam food containers would be replaced with alternatives that often are not recyclable.

For example, plastic-coated paper products cannot be recycled and neither can ordinary paper products once soaked. These end up going to a landfill.

In addition, this ordinance would unfairly harm our family-owned restaurants, which operate on razor-thin margins. The cost differential between styrofoam food-related products and the next available alternative is very significant — up to two to three times greater. Increased material costs would result in major economic consequences to food providers and container manufacturers.

The millions of dollars that would be lost becasue of this ban would otherwise be money available for improved food service, wages to workers and or disposable income for consumers.

With California's recent increase in the sales tax, the federal healthcare mandate and the future increase in our minimum wage, our family-owned restaurants cannot afford to absorb another cost burden.

While I am your local representative, I am also a small-business owner in our community, and I understand how government overregulation affects the bottom line. We have already seen market forces drive innovation toward biodegradable materials and alternative food service items without the government interjecting itself.

I hope you will join me in speaking out against this ill-advised, narrowly focused attempt at social engineering when it is brought before the Huntington Beach City Council for a vote Monday.

Assemblyman TRAVIS ALLEN, R-Huntington Beach, represents the 72nd Assembly District in the California Legislature.

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