Austin Straus 8:30 a.m., April 23
Student-led petition against foam food packaging gains momentum
An online petition campaign initiated by a local student calling on San Diego to ban the use of single-use polystyrene foam (commonly referred to as Styrofoam) containers.
Student activist Yenny Zhang, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy High School in Carmel Valley, says she was motivated to start the petition after attending this year’s City of San Diego Green Students' Youth Forum, where city councilmember Marti Emerald suggested launching a petition as a first step in approaching the city about considering a ban.
According to Zhang’s official petition background language:
Polystyrene foam, sometimes incorrectly called Styrofoam, is incredibly wasteful. It is made from petroleum, breaks into tiny pieces that are very hard to clean up, and never biodegrades. It litters our beaches, streets and parks, and is detrimental to aquatic life and land animals that mistake the pieces as food. Many cities in California have already banned plastic foam, and it is one step that we can take to make the earth a better place for our future generations. Many restaurants have taken the initiative to use alternatives such as durable food ware, paper, cardboard and certified biodegradable plastics instead of polystyrene foam. If we have the option to make better choices, why not make those choices?
Zhang admits that her idea will not go over well with the many businesses that rely on polystyrene as a cheap packaging material. She points to a report commissioned by the city of San Jose that finds the cost of biodegradable fiber products increase restaurant costs from 40-100%, or even 300% in the price of a 12 ounce coffee cup. While the percentages are steep, the end costs are still a small part of a product’s actual cost – the coffee cups in question ranged in price from 3 cents for foam to 9 cents for a paper equivalent.
The petition originally started seeking 1,000 signatures on April 18, but that goal was quickly reached and re-set at 2,000. Yesterday (April 29), the 2,000 target was also eclipsed after the left-leaning MoveOn.org site, where the petition was posted, sent out a promotional e-mail to its member list. Zhang now seeks 3,000 respondents. Some of the signatories, however (perhaps as many at 10 or 15 percent) list locations outside San Diego’s city limits, some outside the county entirely.
She plans to present her petition to the city council today, and will ask for support from Mayor Filner and councilmembers.
“I trust that the City Council will be at least receptive to what I have to say,” Zhang tells the Reader, “especially my representative, Sherri Lightner.”