San Francisco Bans Styrofoam Packaging to Protect the Environment

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Polystyrene foam, commonly known as styrofoam, has been banned by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, who last month voted unanimously to prohibit the sale of the plastic used in packaging, food containers, and other items starting at the beginning of next year.

The ban is a major win for the environment and an important step towards more sustainable practices in the city of San Francisco, where single use plastic bags were already banned in 2014.

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Environmentalists are worried not only about the material’s slow decomposing time — sometimes centuries — but also about animals eating pieces of the foam floating on the water, that might look like fish eggs to certain predators.

“The main challenge posed by Styrofoam is that it breaks into tiny little pieces, especially outside in the sun when it photodegrades. It looks more and more like food and makes them feel full and really, they’re malnourished and they can die from that condition,” Allison Chan, the Clean Bay Campaign manager for the Oakland, California–based organization Save the Bay, told TakePart.

According to a 2015 study, 8 percent of the microscopic particles in the San Francisco Bay were foam, most likely produced from polystyrene products that were decomposing.

And even some of the plastics that are sent to recycling companies still end up in the landfill. The garbage company that is contracted to work in the city of San Francisco is unable to recycle the polystyrene material, so putting ban in place is the one effective way to handle the issue.

The latest measure to stop the pollution caused by polystyrene foam is an expansion of a 2006 San Francisco ordinance that mandated any business selling food has to use recyclable or compostable containers for carryout.

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Foam used in crafts and insulation will still be allowed under the rules of the ban, while supermarkets and grocery stores will be given a six month grace period to stop using polystyrene and replace their containers with a more eco-friendly material.

Around 100 other cities including Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, St. Louis, and Portland, Oregon also passed similar measures to partially or entirely ban the use of foam packaging over the last few years.

Debbie Raphael, director of the San Francisco Department of the Environment, is quoted as saying, “Like so many of the policies that start in San Francisco, we’re hoping that this policy gets picked up in surrounding communities and at the state level so its maximum impact can be realized.”



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About the author: Evan Vitkovski


An American writer, filmmaker, journalist, and blogger living in Taipei, Taiwan. So many stories to tell, so little time.


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