San Diego is the latest California city to ban single-use plastics

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday passed an ordinance to reduce single-use plastics. The Council passed an identical regulation back in January 2019, but it has stalled due to litigation.

The new law covers a long list of polystyrene products, including expanded polystyrene food service ware, meal trays, egg cartons, coolers, ice chests, pool or beach toys and floats, mooring buoys, anchor or navigation markers.

Styrofoam products are not permitted in city facilities, nor can city departments purchase or acquire foodservice goods made from polystyrene foam. Grocery vendors can only provide disposable utensils and straws upon request.

Surfrider Foundation, San Diego County Political Coordinator Mitch Silverstein spoke at the city council meeting and welcomed an overwhelming 7-1 vote in favor of the ban.

“All of these small local steps are the way to create that snowball effect so that we can take state, federal and international action to replace single-use plastics with better alternatives,” Silverstein said.

The Surfrider Foundation said plastic makes up more than 80% of what they find in beach cleanups in San Diego alone.

“Every week a new study comes out showing that they find microplastics in human bodies, it’s in fish. It’s basically everywhere,” Silverstein said. “They even found it in breast milk and human placenta.”

The Surfrider Foundation has been working on this regulation since 2018.

“Times have changed. Public perception and awareness of the problem of plastic pollution has increased exponentially,” Silverstein said. “Unfortunately, the problem is also growing exponentially, so it’s even more important for us and communities to take action. “

And Silverstein said recycling plastic is not a solution.

“The industry has always told us that we can recycle it, but that’s not true, it’s basically a myth. Plastic recycling accounts for less than 10%, and the industry has been telling us for over 40 years that recycling is the way to go so they can continue with business as usual,” said Silverstein.

“It’s a human health problem. It’s an environmental issue. It’s a climate issue,” said Byul Sak, the sophomore chapter chair of CALPIRG UCSD at UC San Diego. She was one of four students who spoke at Tuesday’s session.

“It’s so important that our voices are heard because at the end of the day, it’s not the decision makers who are going to live in the future who are shaping it, it’s us who are going to live in that future,” Sak told KPBS. “We live in an economy that encourages us to buy, use and throw away as soon as possible and the system has been built around some of these plastics like containers, grocery bags, utensils and packaging, creating millions of tons of unnecessary waste a tremendous amount of natural resources consumed.”

Silverstein appreciated the students’ involvement in this topic. “It literally brings tears to my eyes…to see our youth so engaged today because they are literally fighting for their future. They are struggling to live on a livable planet where they can go to the beach and not have to see trash everywhere.”

San Diego is the largest city in California to ban styrofoam. Currently, more than 100 cities, including seven other cities in that county, have already implemented styrofoam restrictions.

“All of these small local steps are the way to create that snowball effect so that we can take state, federal and international action to replace single-use plastics with better alternatives,” Silverstein said.

The regulation comes into effect on April 1, 2023, but three exemptions are available:

  1. A proof of concept in the event that no reasonably viable alternative to polystyrene foam exists.
  2. A financial hardship for businesses earning less than $500,000 per year for which no suitable and affordable alternative product is available. A year
  3. Contractual requirement that allows a one-year waiver for companies with a contract to purchase non-compliant material that existed before the regulation came into force.

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