The Long Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday marked the beginning of the end for the citywide use of polystyrene– a multi-use plastic commonly used in food and drink containers.
The unanimous vote of the phase-in ban is the first step in the process to eliminate the plastic’s use in restaurants or in other retail settings where food is sold within the city, including food trucks. Long Beach joins over 100 other cities in California that regulate the use of polystyrene to package food.
The purpose of the ban is to cut down on littering, protect the public’s health– the National Institute of Health identified polystyrene as a human carcinogen– and to reduce waste that has consumed the city’s beaches.
Slide presentations displayed at the city council meeting indicated that the plastic in question is fairly light and is easily blown into the city’s waterways. It also makes up 60 percent of the waste found on beaches. The ban assists in minimizing food-container litter from washing up on shore.
The ban will not only impact marine life but also businesses that serve ready-to-go food. The ban will first affect City-organized events that feature large restaurants that must comply with the ban within nine months of its approval. Smaller food establishments, categorized as having less than 100 seats, are given 18 months to implement the ban.
First District Councilmember Lena Gonzalez wrote in a newsletter that she is “ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table and has the resources they need to comply with our efforts to better the local environment and protect future generations from this harmful product.”
The letter states that she is “thrilled that [her] colleagues voted to support the tireless work of our green advocates, our local business community and our Environmental Services team.”
Since December of last year, City officials hosted meetings to receive input from stakeholders. At an Environmental Committee meeting, the recommendation was given to ease into the ban. This process gives smaller businesses time to properly adhere to the ban without destabilizing their eating establishments.
The ban also impacts schools in the Long Beach Unified School District. Officials recommended the implementation of educational programs about styrofoam products with an emphasis to reach small businesses.
To replace the polystyrene products, City officials recommend the use of recyclable food-packaging items such as compost-based containers and cups.
During a public-comment section, a member of the audience said that this was the perfect opportunity to promote Long Beach as an “aquatic capital,” and he mentioned that this comes at time where the Olympic Games are set to take place in Los Angeles and partially Long Beach in 2028.
“Polystyrene is difficult to recycle,” said Paul Buchanan, a chef working in Long Beach. “I have run my food business without it for eight years or more and have focused on using composted vehicles such as palm leaf plates. I fully support this proposal and believe it’s the right step for this city.”