ENCINITAS — A powerful lobbying arm for California’s restaurants has come out against Encinitas’ proposed ban on Styrofoam food service products.
The California Restaurant Association’s San Diego County chapter submitted a letter Oct. 2 to the City Council informing them of the group’s opposition, several days after a number of local restaurant owners packed a public meeting in September to implore the city to kill the ordinance.
Officials with the restaurant association said that the city’s ban could drive restaurants out of business or out of the city, as the cost of alternative food service packaging could be as much as triple the cost of Styrofoam packaging.
“To force this on someone with razor-thin (profit) margins, it is really hard for them to do,” said Chris Duggan, governmental affairs director for the San Diego chapter of the California Restaurant Association. “The alternatives are drastically more expensive. They will likely wind up taking their business elsewhere.”
Restaurant representatives said that in addition to being more expensive, the alternative products don’t work as well as Styrofoam in insulating hot or cold foods. At least one restaurant chain, Surf Brothers Teriyaki, switched from alternative products back to Styrofoam after numerous customer complaints.
The city has been exploring a ban on expanded polystyrene products — the generic name for Styrofoam — for more than a year. The ubiquitous packaging product has been seen by officials as a nuisance that winds up polluting local beaches and waterways.
Officials with San Diego’s chapter of the Surfrider Foundation said that more than 80 percent of the waste found on the region’s beaches during cleanups is plastic and Styrofoam single-use products, including food packaging containers.
Annually, about 20,000 pieces of styrofoam are picked up at San Diego County’s beaches, including Moonlight State Beach, said Roger Kube of the Surfrider Foundation.
The City Council is slated to vote on a first reading of the ban Oct. 14. Several restaurant owners have called on the city to encourage residents to recycle their Styrofoam products, rather than discarding of them in the trash, which would limit the amount of the product that winds up in landfills or in local beaches.
Duggan said that many consumers are unaware that Styrofoam products are recyclable as long as they clean any food residue off of it before putting it into recycling receptacles. “The biggest concern when you recycle it is food contamination, but that can be easily dealt with,”
Duggan said. Duggan said that restaurant owners and representatives have called on other cities — rather than ban a product — to adopt incentive-based programs that encourage restaurants to recycle or replace Styrofoam, citing a Surfrider Foundation program that started last year as an example.
“We just want cities to look at alternatives such as recycling before taking a product out of the marketplace, especially one that small businesses rely on and does serve a purpose,” Duggan said.
Despite having its voluntary program, the Surfrider Foundation has endorsed Encinitas’ proposed ban, which they said is the environmentally wise decision.
Kube, citing several published reports on the costs of alternative food services products, said that the restaurant association’s claims of the costs being prohibitive are “overblown.”
One report done by the City of Burlingame in advance of approval of its ordinance showed that the alternative materials rose costs one to three cents per unit, Kube said.
“Is that going to put a restaurant out of business?” Kube said. “I can’t imagine it would.” Those costs, he said, are offset by the environmental damage that is done annually from Styrofoam debris. As for recycling Styrofoam, Kube said that recycling should be seen as a “last resort.” “It’s a nonrenewable resource,” he said.