Steve Amster is fighting Encinitas city hall again. In his 30 years as owner of Garden State Bagels, he has won, and lost, several battles over sign ordinances and sheriff’s department traffic enforcement. This time he and five other small restaurant owners are challenging the city’s proposed ban on styrofoam (a.k.a. polystyrene) containers and cups.
Amster appeared with other small restaurant owners at a recent meeting of Encinitas’ Environmental Commission, stating the ban is unneeded and unwelcomed.
“Our customers want their food in containers that keep it fresh and warm,” he told the Reader on October 1st. “Any other alternative containers, like paper, won’t work. Food will get soggy and cold."
Amster said his styrofoam containers cost is about one third less than any alternative. The average cost for Amster’s containers for his lox or pizza bagels is about ten cents. Amster uses thousands of containers and coffee cups a year. “Our customer’s cost will go up,” he said.
Supporters of the ban reportedly stated at the meeting that styrofoam hurts the environment, winding up in the ocean. “So does the oil from the car you drove here in,” Amster says he told the group at the meeting. “Let’s stop driving cars,” Amster suggested.
“We all love the ocean and want to protect it. The solution is more trash cans on the beach,” Amster said. “But that would make the city workers have to work harder,” he sarcastically added.
Amster says he also told the commission that paper cups from Starbucks are harder on the environment. “They are coated in wax and take longer to decompose,” he said.
But the kicker, according to Amster, is that styrofoam is totally recyclable. “It’s used in wall insulation and to make interior molding.”
EDCO, the city’s contracted waste-disposal company, agrees. As of about a month ago, EDCO starting advising its Encinitas customers that it would accept clean styrofoam containers in its residential curbside recycling trashcans. Encinitas becomes the 65th California town to do so. (However there is no cash recycling value for turning in large quantities of polystyrene products.)
Amster believes the current city council makes “radical decisions” without researching issues well enough.
“If they are going to ban styrofoam, I want all styrofoam banned. The supermarkets shouldn’t be able to sell meat and chicken in styrofoam, and UPS and FedEx shouldn’t be able to deliver packages with styrofoam peanuts,” Amster said.
The meat-department manager at a North County Vons store said he knows of no other material his industry can use to sell meat, fish, and chicken, other than in their styrofoam trays.
The city’s Environmental Commission will reconsider the proposed ban at its next meeting on October 8. The city council is scheduled to have the first reading of the regulation at its October 14 meeting. If approved, the ban would go into effect in 2016.
San Diego Coastkeeper reports that there is a bill in the California legislature that will ban styrofoam in the state. So far, only San Luis Obispo has passed such a ordinance. Reportedly, Solana Beach is racing Encinitas to be the first city in San Diego County to ban polystyrene products.
On September 22nd, the New York Supreme Court overturned a New York City ban on styrofoam containers.
(corrected 10/2, 8:35 a.m.)