The Culver City council voted unanimously to direct city staff to draft an ordinance prohibiting restaurants, grocers, and other retailers from using polystyrene foam products. Polystyrene foam—not to be confused with Styrofoam, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company—is used most often for products like clamshell carryout containers, coffee cups, and lids. It can be easily identified by the #6 symbol that is stamped on the products.
However, restaurant owners argue that any foam ban would cost them more money, in turn forcing them to raise prices for customers. Many restaurants use polystyrene foam containers because they are more durable and dependable than alternatives.
Bradley Pham, owner of Ekkamai Thai, wrote that he expected alternative materials to cost him $25,000 more per year. Jeff Paul, owner of the Outdoor Grill, put that figure at $40,000. Reports estimate that the ban will affect roughly 340 businesses, including restaurants, food trucks, hotels, catering firms, farmers’ markets, and more.
Critics of the ban are also urging the city to focus on recycling efforts instead of an outright ban.
“Rather than banning a product that can be easily disposed of, in the proper receptacle, we support increased recycling and increased awareness of the need for recycling,” the California Restaurant Association wrote in an emailed statement. “Bans against food containers are an overreaction to a problem that can be solved in other ways. This ban represents yet another new cost increase for small businesses.”
Foam is already recycled in areas across the country. Recycled polystyrene foam is used to make items like rulers, surfboards, garden nursery trays, crown molding, and picture frames. Further, since polystyrene is a thermoplastic, it can be recycled over and over again.
Any ban will undoubtedly hurt small business owners and unproductively shift the conversation away from recycling, an important and feasible alternative.