San Diego

Restaurant Owners Make Last-Ditch Plea to Reverse Styrofoam Ban

The ordinance restricts the sale of take-out food containers made with polystyrene and plastic foam.

Local restaurant owners are making a last-ditch plea to reverse the San Diego City Council's impending ban on Styrofoam.

The council voted 5-3 in October to ban Styrofoam products in the city and a second vote Tuesday could make the ban law.

The ordinance restricts the sale of take-out food containers made with polystyrene and plastic foam

Restaurant owners would love to abide, but say alternative, environmentally-friendly containers would cost them nearly twice as much. That's a tall order for restaurateurs like Andres Rodriguez, the owner of Antojitos Colombianos in Logan Heights.

"[Law makers] dont think about the small business owners, how prices are going to increase, or how we're going to be impacted with the supplies and the money we have to spend," Rodriguez said.

He says he has no choice but to pass on the increased costs to his customers which he thinks is unfair and he fears it might drive away business.

Councilmember Chris Cate shared the same sentiment at the first vote meeting.

“500 dollars a day more is a lot of money for the restaurant owners in my district,” the District 6 Councilmember said. “Even $10 a day is a lot for them. You don’t know people’s circumstances.”

The increase in costs come on the back of an increase in the minimum wage to $12 an hour. That wage is scheduled to increase a dollar per year until 2022.

The Environmental Services Department is to provide a list of safe alternative containers. Restaurants can petition the department for a waiver.

Under the ordinance, hardship waivers would be awarded on a case-by-case basis for restaurants that would have financial difficulty making the switch to alternative products. 

The San Diego City Council passed a new ban on Styrofoam products. NBC 7's Catherine Garcia has more on what exactly will be affected.

“I feel we need to move forward with this to protect our oceans, marine life and ourselves,” City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said in October. “We just have to do something.” 

The owners at Ponce's Mexican Restaurant in Kensington say they moved away from Styrofoam and limited plasticware about a year and a half ago, and noted their supply costs went down when they started giving out plastic utensils and straws upon request, a requirement of the proposed ban.

The operation's manager, Mikey Knab, says the cost of Styrofoam replacement products is also coming down.

"I've seen an increase in options that are of better quality and prices are going down because increase in demand," he said.

And for Knab, the positive environmental impact outweighs the shrinking financial burden.

"If Styrofoam keeps reaching the ocean and becoming microplastics ending up in fish, we eat plastic when we eat fish then fish will be labeled a carcinogen and that whole industry will go away," he said.

Before October's first vote, Councilmember Scott Sherman asked if this would apply to styrofoam products purchased in a city other than San Diego. 

"If I go to a donut shop in La Mesa and have coffee in a Styrofoam cup, do I have to switch the container by the time I get to San Diego City Hall?" he asked. He was told he would have to change the container. 

Ahead of that meeting, a group of local restaurant owners gave 50 letters of disapproval to City Councilwoman Myrtle Cole's district office on Euclid Avenue. 

Multiple business owners said they would most likely be forced to shut down and go out of business if they have to use alternative containers. 

“It costs eight cents apiece for the containers I use now and the new containers are forty-five cents apiece,” said Aristotels Garcia, the owner of Wings Empire, a restaurant in San Diego. “That would be an extra $2,000 a month just for containers.”

Councilmembers said any restaurants that currently have a contract with styrofoam companies can petition the Environmental Services Department for a waiver so that agreements are not broken.

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