A broader ban on the use of expanded or extruded polystyrene (EPS) – commonly known as Styrofoam – could be coming to Los Altos as early as next year.
The Los Altos City Council last week continued discussions on an ordinance that would ban EPS containers in food service establishments after some members wanted a more far-reaching law on the books. Specifically, some members expressed interest in including bans on the use of EPS foodware in retail stores and at Los Altos events, as well as a ban on the sale of EPS ice coolers. The council voted unanimously to revisit the topic during its first regularly scheduled meeting Jan. 14.
The original ordinance called for the ban to take effect for national food vendors April 22, Earth Day. A deadline for compliance for local vendors was set for exactly one year later. The ordinance came to the council after the city participated in a California Environmental Quality Act process led by San Jose that resulted in a negative declaration of environmental impact.
The council wasn’t alone in its desire to see a more expansive law in Los Altos. Michael Barnes, a five-year volunteer for GreenTown Los Altos, told the council that “it would make sense to take that extra step” and include additional bans on polystyrene coolers and food serviceware at local retail stores and events.
“Logically, if a product is being sold in the community, it’s going to get used in the community,” said Barnes, who added that cleanup of littered EPS is often difficult, as it breaks into smaller pieces and pollutes local waterways. “And if it’s going to get used in the community, it sort of defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do.”
GreenTown volunteer Michael McTighe noted that a larger ban was “important” to local efforts to preserve the environment.
“It ends up where we’re trying to get it out of, which are the creeks and the streams,” said McTighe, who added that many Los Altos restaurants have already voluntarily switched to compostable materials as food containers. “It just makes sense.”
Barnes said a move to ban EPS – either through the original ordinance or an expanded one – was a step in the right direction for the city. He added that a planned 2015 deadline to phase out EPS locally was “way more time” than needed because most Los Altos small businesses tend to stock EPS products in limited supply.
“I would encourage the council to move it forward and join the other 20 communities around the Bay Area that have already made this move,” he said. “It is the right thing to do. This is a very difficult product to deal with and we should get rid of it.”
Council decides on second look
Some councilmembers agreed with Barnes and McTighe.
Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins told her colleagues that she supported continuing the discussion so that the city could further examine the feasibility of expanding the EPS ban. Bruins and Councilwoman Jan Pepper said national and local establishments should face the same deadline for phasing out the product as well.
“I’m not sure why we have the two tiers. … I just don’t know why there’s a year’s gap between those two,” Bruins said of the two separate dates proposed in the original ordinance.
Councilwoman Val Carpenter also supported looking into an expanded ban and offered an alternate deadline for the ban to take effect, July 4, the date this year that Los Altos implemented its single-use plastic bag ban.
Not everyone on the council was convinced of the need for an expanded ban.
Mayor Megan Satterlee conceded that she was “on the fence” about some elements of the extension.
Councilman Jarrett Fishpaw added that moving a deadline for local compliance to 2014 could result in some financial hardships for local businesses. Beyond that, he added, a more restrictive law might result in legal action down the road.
“There’s going to be litigation around this, just as there was with the single-use plastic bags (ban),” he said. “I don’t necessarily think that Los Altos is going to be in a position to be the flagship for banning every EPS (product) under the sun.”