Council supports Styrofoam ban
Universal consensus may be an irregular phenomenon on the Sonoma City Council these days, but on May 6, when the subject was a proposed ban on the use of Styrofoam food containers in California, unanimity came quickly.
The subject was placed on the agenda by Mayor Laurie Gallian, who sought support for signing a letter on behalf of the council endorsing SB 568, a state Senate bill that would impose the ban on restaurants and prepared food purveyors as of July 1, 2014, and on schools a year later.
The ban would not apply to the use of Styrofoam for other purposes, and would not prohibit Styrofoam use in the packaging of unprepared foods such as raw vegetables or uncooked fish and meat, one of the major sources of Styrofoam use today.
It would also allow cities to ignore the ban if they can demonstrate a feasible plan to recycle 60 percent or more of all polystyrene products.
The Senate bill specifically addresses "polystyrene foam," the scientific name for the rigid foam packaging used for everything from home insulation to electronics packaging to food containers.
The term Styrofoam is a trademarked name owned by Dow that has fallen into generic use.
The legislation reached public attention just as the National Institutes of Health released a study indicating a low-level risk that polystyrene products may cause cancer. Health concerns have long been raised that heating food and drink in Styrofoam cups and boxes could pose health risks, but the NIH study is the first with government research behind it.
That was enough for Councilmember Tom Rouse, who is an executive for POM Wonderful and has considerable business experience marketing packaged food.
"There is no reason, in my opinion, for Styrofoam," Rouse told the council. "There are health hazards for reheating Styrofoam, there's no excuse for it."
Polystyrene foam has also been implicated as a major pollutant in ocean waters because, unlike most plastic products, it breaks down more quickly in water than on land. Tiny particles of plastic have been discovered in abundance in parts of the ocean, sometimes outweighing native plankton in given volumes of water.
That fact is beginning to alarm marine scientists who have yet to reach conclusions on the potential danger plastic particles represent to marine species.
But while the council found itself in harmonious agreement, one member of the audience took heated exception to a ban.
Sonoma resident Mary Morrongiello charged the council wasn't considering the jobs that could be lost with a polystyrene ban, including the 182 workers she said were employed at a plant in Wisconsin. "Are they disposable?" demanded Morrongiello, as she referred to the council as "you clowns in California."
Notwithstanding the outburst, Councilmember Steve Barbose quickly moved to support the endorsement letter, Ken Brown seconded the motion and the council cast a 5-0 vote.