Culminating almost a decade of discussion, the Arcata City Council unanimously voted to ban expanded polystyrene at Tuesday’s special city council meeting.
Expanded polystyrene is a styrofoam- like material often used for take-out containers, and is responsible for approximately 15 percent of debris found in storm drains state-wide, according to Mark Andre, the director of environmental services for the city.
The ordinance approved Tuesday will be adopted by council on May 20. Once adopted, local food establishments and retail sellers will have until Oct. 1 to stop using expanded polystyrene, according to Andre.
Andre said the ordinance was structured in a similar way to the plastic bag ban ordinance, and will allow people time to use their stock before going into effect. He said that time will also allow the city to do outreach and to educate businesses about the material.
“We’ve done our best to scope this but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a surprise to some,” Andre said.
Discussion of the citywide ban has been ongoing since 2008. In 2008 the city conducted a study of local food establishments and 84 percent of respondents said they would support the ban.
Andre said that even less opposed the ban during a more recent phone survey of 71 businesses.
“Only one didn’t support the ban,” Andre said.
He said that of the 71 businesses who were surveyed in March of this year, four said they use polystyrene containers, but that they would support the ban.
“There seems to be pretty good compliance currently,” Andre said.
Among the reasons for the ban is Arcata’s goal to shift toward zero waste.
Julie Layshock, a board member at Zero Waste Humboldt with a background in environmental chemistry and toxicology, spoke during the meeting.
“Zero Waste Humboldt continues to work on issues that involve, if the ban passes and if the ordinance passes, ways to implement it,” she said during the meeting.
Layshock said the group is working on a method to help business owners chose the best alternative to expanded polystyrene for their business.
Layshock said they also are promoting alternatives to disposable take-out containers.
“We definitely advocate for the public education piece to advocate using your own reusable container,” Layshock said.
However, she did question whether the ban went far enough. The ban refers to expanded polystyrene, but solid polystyrene is used for plastic utensils and other items whose production has the same amount of impact on the environment as expanded polystyrene, according to Layshock.
“If we are going to ban polystyrene why not ban it all together?” she asked.
Mayor Michael Winkler brought up a question along the same line and asked that the ordinance specify that it was referring only to expanded polystyrene. He noted that the ordinance only explicitly said expanded polystyrene on the first reference, from then on it just said polystyrene.
Nancy Diamond, the city attorney, said that clarification can be made at a later date if council feels it is necessary.
With almost no questions, council moved to support the ordinance.
“I do want to commend Arcata businesses for doing such a great job and already being ahead of the curve on this,” Pereira said before making a motion to support the ban.
Council unanimously supported the ban, which will ban take-out containers as well as expanded polystyrene products sold in retail stores.
Meat, raw eggs and other food that comes prepackages in polystyrene containers will be exempt, as will medical supplies, surfboards, boats and other materials where the polystyrene is coated with a protective layer.