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City to Take Education Tack on Styrofoam

Council seeks clear data on environmental effects of foam containers and explores the possibility of a public educational campaign aimed at reducing the material's use, particularly by restaurants.

The Hermosa Beach City Council has decided to take a deeper look at the local use of polystyrene foam containers often distributed with takeout orders in restaurants.

Polystyrene—commonly known as Styrofoam—is a petroleum-based plastic material that can be molded into containers or cups.

The Hermosa Beach Green Task Force, an advisory group to the council, on the material, which can be toxic to the environment, according to research (see accompanying city staff report under photo.)

After reviewing the group's proposal , council members decided to direct city staffers to clarify data gathered by the task force and to begin forming a plan to educate the public about polystyrene.

As council members focused primarily on education rather than the proposed ban, some doubted the appropriateness of outlawing polystyrene.

"I think a ban is for things that are urgent, that are an emergency, and truly ...  dire," said City Councilman Michael DiVirgilio at the council meeting, suggesting outreach and composting or recycling programs as an alternative approach.

For example, he added that city staffers could write a letter from Mayor Peter Tucker to the public announcing that "Hermosa Beach is committed to the significant reduction of all things that affect our ocean habitat," he said, which includes single-use polystyrene. The letter could ask restaurateurs, in lieu of a ban, to reduce their use of Styrofoam materials, DiVirgilio suggested.

In its proposal to the council, the Green Task Force identified 24 restaurants in Hermosa Beach that use either Styrofoam takeout containers or cups.

"We hear from our customers all the time that they want to do the right thing and want to use a product that’s great and they have trouble when a city bans," said Samantha Martinez, a former Hermosa Beach resident and representative for the Plastic Foodservice Packaging Group, as she spoke before the council.

Councilman Howard Fishman questioned how a ban could be enforced, noting that even though Hermosa Beach has an ordinance prohibiting smoking on the beach, cigarette butts are still the most commonly found trash item littering the coast.

Councilman Jeff Duclos argued that a ban could be effective, and Hermosa Beach should join the other coastal cities that have prohibited the use of polystyrene containers, which include Malibu, Newport Beach, Santa Cruz, Santa Monica and Laguna Beach.

"There’s no question in my mind the overwhelming presence of environmental risk of this material. ... Essentially, what we have are these temporary containers that become permanent litter," Duclos said to his fellow council members. 

Since the products are petroleum-based, he said, "it’s part of this oil-dependency cycle we’re caught in."

Hermosa Beach resident Dency Nelson, speaking to the council, said that prohibiting the use of polystyrene containers could send a powerful message about the city's commitment to becoming more environmentally friendly. "It means ‘we really do mean business,’" he said.

"This is an important item not only for this beach city but for other communities," Tucker said. "We have to be pro-active in this community, but I’m open to postponing this and having another hearing to get people to speak to this. It’s not going to hurt to wait."

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