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CEC worked with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper and others to successfully advocate for a ban on expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food containers (Styrofoam) in Santa Barbara. With your support, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to ban EPS for food service and retail sales. This law goes into effect on January 1, 2019.

We also worked with Carpinteria, who has had an EPS law since 2009, to expand their law to include retail sales.

We will continue to advocate for EPS laws throughout the region. There are currently 116 such laws in California. There were more than 200 plastic bag laws in place before the state took action on that issue back in 2016.

Here are some basic facts about what EPS is, why it is harmful, and how we can effectively replace it in food service.

What is EPS?

Expanded polystyrene foam, commonly but incorrectly known as Styrofoam, is a lightweight material used to make thermal insulation, packing peanuts and food takeout ware. Most polystyrene food containers are used once and discarded, ending up as landfill trash or as litter.

Quick EPS Facts

  • It’s nonbiodegradable and has a disproportionately large negative environmental impact.
  • It creates hundreds of thousands of tons of waste each year.
  • It’s difficult to recycle because of food contamination and lack of facilities.
  • It builds up as litter in storm drains, resulting in high cleanup costs.
  • It creates beach litter, which impacts wildlife and tourism.
  • It becomes ocean pollution that breaks down and is easily ingested by animals.

Who has banned or reduced EPS food packaging?

  • 116 jurisdictions in CA have local ordinances
  • 21 also include the retail sale of products
  • LA City and County are currently considering laws
  • 15 global brands including Dow Chemical, Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Procter & Gamble are recommending the phase-out of EPS products.

What other effects does EPS have?

  • EPS is a major component of urban litter – the best way to reduce litter is prevention at the source.
  • Coastal communities spend millions on beach, storm drain and waterway clean-ups.
  • EPS is consistently one of the top two or three most abundant forms of beach debris.
  • EPS poses a health threat to wildlife – they mistake it for food and suffer from loss of appetite, reduced nutrient absorption and starvation (at least 162 species have been affected).
  • Studies have found that styrene, a cancer-causing and neurotoxic component of polystyrene, can leach into food and drink, posing a human health risk.
  • Less than 1% of EPS is recycled in CA – it can only be recycled if it’s clean and is not currently accepted by Santa Barbara recycling facilities.
  • EPS reduction policies may have long-term economic benefits in savings from avoided litter cleanup costs. The estimated $13 per resident that West Coast cities spend on annual litter cleanups may decline as EPS food container waste decreases.
  • Coastal areas whose economies rely on tourism will also benefit from reduction in beach litter.

What is replacing EPS?

  • Affordable alternatives like paper products with recycled content and reusable cups and containers are readily available. As demand increases for alternative food packaging, their prices will decrease.

Want to know more?

  • Head to 5 Gyres, the organization of CEC’s 2016 Environmental Hero, Marcus Eriksen. They have resources to help you support the #foamfree effort, including scripts for conversations you can have with local restaurants, contact info for local government, and ready-to-post tweets to help spread the word.
  • Read the Equinox Project paper, Recommendations for Reducing or Banning Foam Food Service Containers for a complete analysis of cost effective alternatives. They found that when the price difference of foam container alternatives is considered as a percentage of the total cost of the food item, cost increases are minimal.

Local sources of eco-friendly packaging:

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