City of Ventura moves forward with polystyrene regulation

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The city of Ventura is proceeding with plans to regulate the use of polystyrene, popularly known by the brand name Styrofoam, from local restaurants and businesses.

The ordinance was introduced during a Ventura City Council meeting last week, following a 6-0 vote in February to begin drafting its language.

The polystyrene material is commonly used for single-use plates, cups, take-out food containers and packing materials, and is harmful to the environment, officials said.

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“Expanded polystyrene litter is one of the most prevalent and hard-to-remove items found on our beaches due to its weight and fragility,” City Manager Alex McIntyre and Public Works Director Phillip Nelson wrote in a report for the council. It does not biodegrade, and it cannot be recycled, they said.

If adopted, the proposed ordinance would ban the use of polystyrene containers at restaurants, grocery stores, convenience stores and other businesses.

Speaking at the council meeting, city of Ventura environmental sustainability manager Joe Yahner said what makes polystyrene different from other material is that it quickly breaks into small pieces, which makes it very challenging to remove from the environment. Banning polystyrene will help reduce local litter issues and reduce debris in the marine environment, he said.

Several Ventura residents spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, and all were in favor of a ban on the material.

“Styrofoam is incredibly harmful for the city of Ventura,” said one resident, Madeline Cook, adding that the EPA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer warn that the material could be carcinogenic.

“It’s affecting not only our landscape, but members of our community,” she said.

Another resident said she was “shocked” to learn the material hadn’t already been banned. If the ordinance is adopted, Ventura will join more than 130 cities in California that have implemented similar regulations, including Ojai, Santa Barbara, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and Hermosa Beach.

The ordinance is expected to be approved at the next City Council meeting Nov. 9, said Ventura spokeswoman Heather Sumagaysay.

But it will not go into effect until summer 2021, in part to account for the hardships many businesses are facing due to COVID-19 — like restaurants that are relying heavily on delivery and takeout options.

“We didn’t want to make any type of movements that would impact or potentially hurt business who are already hurting,” Sumagaysay said, adding that the city will offer an extension to businesses that need more time to make the change.

Deputy public works director Mary Joyce Ivers said Friday that the city will also implement an outreach program to provide businesses with the tools they need to make the transition. Several local businesses have already stopped using the material voluntarily, she said. Ventura surveyed more than 200 restaurants and worked with the chamber of commerce in preparation for the ordinance.

There are other exemptions, too. Yahner said polystyrene packaging prepared outside the city, like egg cartons, that is then sold within the city won’t be subject to the ban.

The ordinance also does not go so far as to mandate that packaging materials be made of compostable, recyclable and biodegradable material, although Yahner said it could be amended to include that language at a later time.

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