It's been nearly nine years since San Francisco banned Styrofoam coffee cups, to-go containers, after then Board of Supervisors President Aaron "I'm back" Peskin pushed forward legislation banning the use of such products as of June, 2007. And now the Board's current president wants the ban to go even further, prohibiting polystyrene packing materials, ice chests, and pool toys.
It was back in June, 2006 that Peskin said "Polystyrene foam products rely on nonrenewable sources for production, are nearly indestructible and leave a legacy of pollution on our urban and natural environments. If McDonald's could see the light and phase out polystyrene foam more than a decade ago, it's about time San Francisco got with the program" as he introduced his proposed ban on restaurant use of the material. Since then, the Chron reports, "more than 100 cities have enacted laws restricting the sale of foam products."
Breed's ban, the Chron reports, would prohibit polystyrene "packing peanuts, ice chests, beach toys, dock floats, mooring buoys and fish trays." It "will not impact packages with polystyrene foam sent from out of state," so neither you nor your grandma in Omaha will get busted if she sends you a care package of cookies nestled in chips of Styrofoam.
It's unclear when Breed plans on introducing the expanded ban (and an email from SFist to her office wasn't responded to at publication time), but already, industry representatives are up in squeaky, foamy arms. “In reality the city of San Francisco is not going to be helping the environment. They are just going to appear to be helping the environment,” one lobbyist tells the Chron, saying that Breed and SF's Department of the Environment, which helped write the legislation, are overstating the dangers of polystyrene.
Both are “picking and choosing numbers to make the problem look like it’s bigger than it is” the lobbyist says.
According to Breed's legislation (which SFist requested a full copy of, but had not received at publication time), the product “has been linked to cancer as well as reproductive and developmental disorders...threatens the entire food chain" and is "a significant source of litter on San Francisco’s streets, parks, and public places.”
If the legislation passes — which is likely, given the Board's current makeup — the Department of the Environment will enforce the law, with hefty fines for offenders. But it might not be as simple as all that, as polystyrene advocates have turned litigious in recent years, and successfully overturned New York's restaurant ban on the product in 2015.
Gothamist reported last year that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan drubbed the ban, saying that there is "abundant evidence showing a viable and growing market for not just clean EPS (expanded polystyrene foam) but post-consumer EPS material." That judgement was enough to kill the ban in Gotham, and it hasn't been revived.
Will San Francisco's ban, which would be the "most extensive ban on the product in the country," suffer a similar fate? Not if Breed has her way. In fact, she tells the Chron, “We should have made plans years and years ago,” to ban even more polystyrene stuff.
“This is about the fact that we have the technology to do better and we should be doing better.”
5:24 p.m.: In a call to SFist, Breed chief of staff Conor Johnston says that the legislation "was introduced about an hour ago" at the meeting of the full Board. You can read the full legislation as it is presently proposed here, and the "digest" version here.