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What San Francisco’s Expanded Foam Ban Means

San Francisco has enacted the nation’s strictest ban on plastic foam.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, June 28 unanimously voted to outlaw foam products. For most products, the ban will take effect Jan. 1, 2017. For meat and fish trays, the ban went into effect on July 1.

"I just passed the toughest anti-Styrofoam law in the country and we did it unanimously! This is a huge step for our environment and health. San Francisco is on our way to leading the country on environmental policy -- again!" Board of Supervisors President London Breed wrote on her Facebook page after the vote. "

According to Ecowatch:

"The reason why this was passed is that it's not practically recyclable, causes a unique harm in the environment and there were better alternatives," Jack Macy, commercial zero waste senior coordinator for San Francisco's Department of the Environment, told TakePart.

Polystyrene disintegrates slowly in landfills, taking centuries to break down entirely. There are a few polystyrene recycling centers in San Francisco, such as GreenCitizen and Recology, but they can only make a small dent in the 25 billion polystyrene to-go cups Americans throw away annually.

It’s not the first legislation the city has had for plastic foam. In 2007, it prohibited the use of polystyrene use in all to-go food containers. More than 100 other cities have similar laws in place, including Washington D.C., where concerns about foam in the Anacostia River led to the ban. But San Francisco’s latest legislation broadens the measure for more products.

The Associated Press has more on the reaction to the ban:

Environmentalist are cheering San Francisco's ban as the most comprehensive by a large U.S. jurisdiction on the cheap insulating foam that cushions goods and keeps drinks hot or cold. They say the lightweight plastic is extremely slow to decompose, and it pollutes waterways, harming marine life and birds.

Detractors, however, say the legislation does nothing to stop foam-wrapped goods that are shipped into the city - such as heaters, computers and just about everything else - defeating San Francisco's stated purpose of reducing waste. They'd rather San Francisco recycle the product.

And although bans are in place across the nation, New York’s ban was actually overturned last year.

One of the objections is that foam is actually recyclable, although it is not an easy material to repurpose.

As Mother Jones reported:

Critics of the new ban are quick to point out that polystyrene is recyclable—a judge actually overturned New York City's ban on to-go containers last year, ruling that the city could make big money recycling the stuff. But while San Francisco residents can bring large pieces of polystyrene to a transfer station free of charge, it rarely gets recycled. The problem, says Robert Reed, a local project manager for Recology, a company that helps cities manage solid waste, is that few people bother to bring in their Styrofoam, and when they do, it's usually not in good enough condition to be repurposed. (It can be melted down and used as trim or molding for building construction.) "The few buyers who exist demand that the material be very clean," Reed says in an email. "They don't even want dust on it."


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