Restaurants slow to take advantage of city’s polystyrene reimbursement program

Restaurants slow to take advantage of city’s polystyrene reimbursement program
Restaurants in Encinitas aren't rushing to take part in program for switching away from polystyrene food service. Courtesy photo

ENCINITAS — A city-sponsored program to reimburse restaurants up to $400 for switching from polystyrene food service ware in advance of a citywide ban on the products is off to a slow start.

Three restaurants have applied for the reimbursement program — a collaboration between the city and the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project — which was aimed at providing restaurants with an incentive to begin using alternative products in advance of June 16, when the ban takes effect.

That’s three out of the about 81 restaurants and other “food providers” that are still using some form of expanded polystyrene food service products, such as to-go containers and cups, the city estimates. Proponents of the ban have argued that EPS, often called “styrofoam” is a nuisance that winds up polluting local beaches and waterways.

“That’s definitely not the ratio that we want to see,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said of the number of restaurants applying for the rebate. “We offered the incentive to try to make it as easy as possible for businesses to wean themselves off of styrofoam, so I wish more were trying to take advantage.”

The program allows for restaurants to apply until July 1 for reimbursement for a portion of the cost of switching to alternative products. Restaurants can receive up to $400 for products purchased before Feb. 28, $300 for products purchased after Feb. 28 but before March 31, and $200 for products purchased after March 31 but before April 30.

The city mailed each of the restaurants to inform them of the program in early February.

Erik Steenblock, the city’s environmental programs manager, pointed out that restaurants could still apply for the reimbursement up until the July 1 date.

The city council approved the first reading of the ban in December, but voted to give restaurants six months to phase out use of the products. At the November council meeting, Bob Nichols of the Surfing Madonna Oceans Project offered to put up money to help with the reimbursement program.

But the ban has received opposition from several local restaurants as well as the California Restaurant Association, which has said that a ban puts an unnecessary financial burden on small businesses.

Blakespear said that one of the reasons she isn’t surprised by the slow rollout of the program is the pushback from some of the restaurant owners.

“I can’t say I am surprised though, we did a lot of outreach and some businesses are not interested in changing because it takes effort to change,” she said.  “I don’t know what more we can do. As a city, we’ve done everything we can to make transition as easy as possible. If they don’t take advantage of incentive, that is what they are missing out on.”

The three restaurants to date that have applied for reimbursement are Maurizio’s Trattoria and Cancun Mexican Seafood on Coast Highway 101 and The Original Pancake House on South Rancho Santa Fe Road.

Michael Daffern, the manager of the Original Pancake House, said that it hasn’t been easy to make the transition — the alternative products cost much more, aren’t as effective as keeping food insulated and don’t come in the same sizes as the polystyrene products.

Daffern said the restaurant has already switched packaging three times since the council’s vote, and that the $400 reimbursement will cover roughly a month’s worth of packaging.

But, he said, the restaurant was committed to following the new rules, understanding the importance of limiting the waste product that heads to the beaches.

“It’s not easy finding something that replaces Styrofoam,” Daffern said. “We got (program information) in the mail, and we were already going to switch, so it was a win-win for us, and a win-win for the city as well. We do agree that styrofoam isn’t great for the environment and that recyclable products are better, I just don’t know if they are ready for the marketplace.”

To date, he said, he hasn’t received any customer feedback about the new products — one way or the other.

“But this law wasn’t made for customer appreciation, it was made for the environment,” Daffern said.

Blakespear commended Daffern and the other restaurant owners for their participation in the program.

“Well they have the right attitude, and makes me wish other restaurants had the same attitude,” Blakespear said.

For more information about the program, visit the city’s website at encinitasca.gov.

2 Comments
  1. Janine K Rands 2 months ago

    Mayor Catherine Blakespear. I just read the article on your effort to get the Encinitas restaurants to move out of Polystyrene foam to environmentally friendly dishes. We are addressing this issue in San Luis Obispo cities and soon the County. The evidence is so evident why Foam must be removed from the food industry it is amazing that it has lasted this long. Americans are being poisoned by Foam, and the excuse of businesses that they can’t afford to change – yet, the second highest cause of death in the U.S. is Cancer. The release of carcinogenic Polystyrene chemicals into hot, oily or acidic foods has been tested and proven. Merely holding it in your hand (a styrofoam cup of coffee) is enough heat to enter your skin. The second is the 98% foam air that becomes airborne and floats; is seen as food for birds that end up dying from impacted stomachs that can’t digest foam. The final but not the least problem, is that Foam has been estimated to consume 20-30% of your landfill. It never breaks down or gets smaller density by being in a landfill, except will continue to release chemicals. Governor Jerry Brown started a 75%-25% initiative for every city municipal to reduce, recycle or compost the amount of trash by 2020. Getting rid of Foam is a quick way to make the countdown to eliminate 25% of that 75% bulk. It is a no-brainer for business to switch. Customer pressure to switch to alternatives or we won’t patronize your business. How many customers will it take to change?

  2. Janine K Rands 2 months ago

    Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear. MARCH 3, 2017
    I just read the article on your effort to get the Encinitas restaurants to move out of Polystyrene foam to environmentally friendly dishes. We are addressing this issue in San Luis Obispo cities and soon the County. The evidence is so evident why Foam must be removed from the food industry it is amazing that it has lasted this long. Americans are being poisoned by Foam, and the excuse of businesses that they can’t afford to change – yet, the second highest cause of death in the U.S. is Cancer. The release of carcinogenic Polystyrene chemicals into hot, oily or acidic foods has been tested and proven. Merely holding it in your hand (a Styrofoam cup of coffee) is enough heat to release chemicals into your skin. The second is the 98% foam air that becomes airborne and floats; is seen as food for birds that end up dying from impacted stomachs that can’t digest foam. The final but not the least problem, is that Foam has been estimated to consume 20-30% of your landfill. It never breaks down or gets smaller density by being in a landfill, except will continue to release chemicals. Governor Jerry Brown started a 75%-25% initiative for every city municipal to reduce, recycle or compost the amount of trash by 2020. Getting rid of Foam is a quick way to make the countdown to eliminate 25% of that 75% bulk. It is a no-brainer for business to switch if they care for their community’s healthy constituents. Customer pressure to switch to alternatives or we won’t patronize your business. How many customers will it take to change? It must also be removed from retail stores. It is hardly reasonable for restaurants to give it up, when people can still buy it in the stores. You must have an Ordinance – people won’t change voluntarily. Do it for you and the birds!

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