San Diego’s Ban on Polystyrene Means More Costs for Small Businesses


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A ban on polystyrene went into effect for small businesses in San Diego in April. Polystyrene is a synthetic polymer sometimes colloquially called Styrofoam, especially in the U.S.

The move means more costs for small businesses in that California community.

“Polystyrene plastic foam is one of the biggest sources of marine litter and costs the state and local governments millions of dollars each year to collect it from beaches, road sides, and storm drains,” writes Mariel Garza for the Los Angeles Times.

Small businesses making less than $500,000 annually received a brief year long exemption. But now the cost of eliminating the waste falls on the businesses that can afford it least.

A 2013 study by the American Chemistry Council found replacing polystyrene food containers and cups with another alternative represents at least a 94% cost increase for businesses. The American Chemistry Council serves as a trade association promoting the interests of the American chemical industry. That includes companies that currently manufacture and market polystyrene.

Small businesses, particularly in the food takeout industry, favor polystyrene for food service containers. The product remains a cheap and durable option. Polystyrene’s insulation properties also keep food and beverages warm.

Preferred alternative materials recommended by San Diego include ceramic, glass, plastic and paper. The city recommends these materials for plates, cups, bowls, hinged containers and trays. The city also recommends aluminum for trays, hinged containers and wraps.

San Diego becomes one of more than 130 other California communities to institute a ban on polystyrene foodservice containers and other polystyrene products. The Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act mandates a ban of the materials statewide in California by 2025 unless recycling rates reach 25%.

Other states that have already banned polystyrene include Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Washington DC and Colorado. States with bans looming include Washington, Delaware, and the majority of Hawaii, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia.

Though more costly, some small businesses still support the change.

“If for some chance something flies into the ocean, I’d rather it be a piece of paper than a piece of Styrofoam that’s going to be there for the next 3,000 years,” Bobby Kokinda, owner of Ocean Beach Meat Company told KPBS.

Image: Envato

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Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Executive Editor for Small Business Trends and has been with the team for 17 years. He is a professional journalist with more than 20 years experience in traditional and digital media for trade publications and news sites. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and has served as a beat reporter, columnist, editorial writer, bureau chief and managing editor for the Berks Mont Newspapers.

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