The imminent effects of the foam ban in San Luis Obispo

The San Luis Obispo City Council recently passed a proposal to ban polystyrene foam containers used to store food and drinks. The new ordinance also requires that all alternative disposable containers must be recyclable in some form or biodegradable. This foam restriction will have draining effects on the community specifically on businesses and customers in the foodservice industry in San Luis Obispo. Ironically, if the city council prohibits the use of foam containers, many alternatives will be much more difficult to recycle than foam.

Economically, biodegradable or recyclable alternatives cost much more than EPS foam, which is commonly but incorrectly called Styrofoam; Styrofoam is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company. The Ellensburg School District in Washington, for example, recently decided not to transition its foam lunch trays to an alternative product because it would be too expensive. The district found that it would cost upwards of $15,000 more per year to switch to paper trays or an additional $35,000 per year to maintain reusable trays. By the same token, a similar price increase is a budget risk that local restaurant owners in San Luis Obispo simply cannot afford.

Containers made out of a substitute product can cost upwards of 12 cents per unit as compared to 4 cents for a foam container.  A switch to a different product would be a 200% increase in cost for containers for a restaurant. Under the new ordinance, businesses can be granted exemptions for instances in which affordable alternative containers are not available. In those cases, however, the exemptions will only be granted for one year. Some restaurants may decide to put the additional costs on customers, but this could be troubling for both restaurants and consumers. Businesses do not want to raise prices to cover the costs of new containers just as much as customers do not want to pay more.

In addition to cost considerations, foam containers possess environmental advantages that other products do not possess. The manufacturing process is efficient and generates fewer greenhouse gasses, water effluents, and solid waste than competing products. Moreover, foam cups and containers can be recycled, unlike many alternatives such as paper foodservice products.

Another issue with this ban is that it only addresses foam food and drink containers, not other uses of foam such as packaging peanuts. This ban will not get rid of all foam products in San Luis Obispo or their perceived negative effects. The money that will be invested in new containers could be better spent on developing and maintaining a foam recycling program. Recycling would help the foodservice industry save money and would more effectively help the environment by giving a home for all products of foam.

Source: Street Insider

Foam Bans