Palo Alto set to expand Styrofoam ban | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto set to expand Styrofoam ban

City looks to ban sale, distribution of expanded foam

Packing peanuts may soon be shipping out of Palo Alto.

The same goes for cups, plates, egg cartons, ice chests and other foodware made of expanded plastic foam, best known as Styrofoam.

As part of the city's ongoing war against the squeaky substance, the City Council is preparing to consider an expansion of the city's existing ordinance, which was adopted in 2010 and covers Styrofoam containers at local food service establishments. If the new rule goes in effect, Palo Alto would prohibit the sale and distribution of foam peanuts and blocks, as well as foam food containers.

Just as with the prior ban, the main reason for the proposed new prohibition has to do with creek pollution. A new report from Public Works staff claims that Styrofoam, foodware and packaging is "found in local creeks and throughout Palo Alto's watershed."

The report calls plastic foam "one of the most prevalent forms of litter" -- one that contributes about 114 tons of garbage to the city's waste stream each year. In May, during the National River Cleanup Day at Matadero and Adobe creeks, more than 415 pieces of plastic foam were reportedly found at the two creeks. Another 945 pieces were recovered from the two creeks in September, during the Coastal Cleanup day.

"These pieces are notoriously problematic to collect as they continuously break into smaller pieces with age and can float or blow away," the Public Works report states. "These plastic pieces can be mistaken for food by wildlife, impair water quality of chemicals that leach from plastic, and contribute to broader concerns of plastic pollution loading in San Francisco Bay and beyond."

Today, Styrofoam coolers and food containers are available at six pharmacies, two grocery stores, two mail stores and one hardware store, according to city staff. If the new ordinance is adopted, enforcement would be based on complaints and periodic compliance checks.

So far, the new restriction has been sailing through the city approval process with no opposition. The city's two community meetings on the topic -- targeting local businesses and the plastic-industry representatives, respectively -- netted no participation from either segment, according to Public Works. Managers from Hassett Ace Hardware, Kinkos FedEx office, Mollie Stones, Safeway, The UPS Store and Walgreens have responded to the city to indicate that the expanded ordinance would "not result in any undue hardship on their business," according to the Public Works report. Other stores, including Country Sun, Peninsula Hardware, Sigona's Farmer's Market and Whole Foods, already comply with the proposed restrictions and the few public letters that the city received on the subject were in support of the new restriction.

William Rosenberg, a resident of Bruce Drive, called the restrictions "an important step in eliminating these items from our waste stream."

"Since there are already viable, commercially available, alternatives which are much friendlier to our environment, this should be enacted (and enforced) immediately."

If the council concurs, Palo Alto will join other cities and counties with similar prohibitions on the books. The list includes Los Altos, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and the City and County of Santa Cruz, according to Public Works staff.

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23 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 7:12 pm

Many cars have styrofoam blocks inside their bumpers. Is the sale and distribution of cars excluded from this ban?

What happens when an out of town merchant ships a package to a resident that contains styrofoam packaging? Are the US Postal Service, UPS or FedEx violating the ban when they deliver the package?

19 people like this
Posted by Propaganda
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2015 at 8:00 pm

How much State and/or Fed Grant money is earmarked for this phase of the "project"?
We all know this ordinance would not take place if there was not funding available. This money is not free! Please stop wasting taxpayers money.

25 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 7:59 am

SteveU is a registered user.

You NEED to ship or receive Food or Medicine by Air (or next Zone Ground). Use a Plastic Camping Cooler and pay the extra weight fee?
Oh Wait. They haven't made a cooler with fiberglass insulation for decades.

No more (foam insulated) Home Refrigerators or Freezers. No more Energy Star because the fiberglass freezer insulation becomes (frozen) waterlogged after a few years.

Note: to City Council: Let Engineers and Scientists develope the guidelines that ARE reasonably doable. Your method seems to be, PC 'At ANY COST'

6 people like this
Posted by Another Community
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2015 at 8:51 am

It's only for retail sale and distribution and doesn't include packaging that was built into the product.

14 people like this
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Joel is a registered user.

Where can one dispose of or recycle styrofoam products?

1 person likes this
Posted by muscial
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:14 pm

@SteveU, the William Rosenberg quoted in the article is a scientist (not the founder of Dunkin Donuts).

11 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:35 pm

@Joel -

Palo Alto used to recycle block styrofoam but stopped several years ago. I called the Recycling Office (which has changed now) and was told they tried but couldn't find buyers for the styrofoam, which was brought to the Recycling Center in large quantities. So as far as I know there is nothing to do with block styrofoam (including food containers) except put them in the landfill. Styrofoam peanuts can be taken to some mailing/shipping companies such as GreenMail on El Camino. They reuse them in packing objects for shipping. Also, according to Web Link, UPS stores will take styrofoam peanuts. The same site indicates there are places where you can drop off styrofoam blocks and sheets, but nearly all appear to be in San Francisco or the East Bay.

Like this comment
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Joel is a registered user.

Thank you, Tom

2 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2015 at 3:57 pm

I hope this will carry to surrounding cities as well.
There are plenty of stores outside of Palo Alto which insist on using Styrofoam trays for certain vegetables and take out. I have asked Ranch market several times (by letter, and in person), to please stop using them. I finally decided to just stop shopping there for certain produce. The produce section pre-packages certain items onto Styrofoam plate trays. And the large covered trays at the dim sum counter are also a ridiculous waste. Three to four small items are placed in a large sectioned foam tray. I began asking for a bag, and deal with the grease bleeding through.

19 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 9, 2015 at 11:42 pm

[Portion removed.] Styrofoam is an excellent insulator and used for restaurant food packaging for liquids. Unfortunately coated cardboard is used for meal leftovers and leaks and drips food oils and liquids onto car upholstery, trunk carpeting, clothes, etc. It is useless.
[Portion removed.]

15 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2015 at 8:26 am

I went shopping last night. Alas I didn't bring a bag... so Safeway missed out on about $50 of groceries I would have bought.

I decided to get a quick meal at the deli instead. Since this grocery store hath been purged of the unholy Devilfoam, I was served a meal and 2 sides lumped together in a huge plastic container. As the mac n cheese mixed with the kale salad, part of me longed for the days of convenient trays that divided my entree from the sides.

If anyone wants to organize a Liberty protest... Let's stand in front of Safeway and pass out massive amounts of free plastic bags and Styrofoam to shoppers. We cant continue to passively accept these senseless, excessive regulations.

24 people like this
Posted by Medical Needs?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2015 at 12:01 pm

I have severe rheumatoid arthritis. My very expensive, highly perishable injections must be overnighted to me. Along the way, it must be kept refrigerated, so it is packed in layers of bubble wrap, surrounded with ice packs, and insulated with styrofoam. I am not usually home when it is delivered, so it must sit on my porch until I arrive.

Without that styrofoam insulation, my meds would spoil. In the summer months, that would only be two hours.

My insurance company insists I have to by from a mail order pharmacy. Previous insurance companies required this as well.

So where does a styrofoam ban leave me? The mail order pharmacy says there are no other suitable options at this time.

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