Thursday, May 17, 2007

Santa Barbara Takes Steps Towards Banning Grocery Bags and Styrofoam

By Melissa Evans
Wednesday, May 16 2007
City leaders on Tuesday took a step toward banning Styrofoam containers used for prepared food and plastic bags used at grocery stores in their efforts to become more environmentally friendly.

The idea, which would have substantial ramifications for consumers and businesses, has been discussed in prior meetings relating to the need to divert trash from the Tajiguas Landfill.

Members of the City Council were all supportive of the ban, and voted to send the idea to its Subcommittee on Solid Waste for review of legal and other issues.

The decision came after a presentation by a group of Santa Barbara City College students who are part of a sustainability workshop that encourages more efficient use of natural resources.

Because plastic bags are made petroleum-based, leakage from these products can cause negative effects to animals, particularly birds, and the ecosystem, said James Griffin, one of the students.

He and his colleagues asked the council to consider measures that would encourage the public to use cloth bags and biodegradable products to store food -- possibly asking restaurants to add a small tax to cover the cost.

“These are simple ways for the general public to feel like they are part of the solution,” said Kathi King, another student.

All of the council members expressed support without getting too deep into the details; logistical and legal issues still need to be analyzed by city staff members.

There is, however, precedent for these bans. The city of San Francisco banned the use of plastic bags a few months ago, giving grocery store chains time to accommodate the changes.

Several cities and counties, including Ventura County and Orange County, have banned the use of Styrofoam containers for prepared food.

Cities and counties cannot control “interstate commerce,” meaning they can’t regulate products that are shipped here from elsewhere, said City Attorney Steve Wiley. They can, however, control products and food that are made here, he said.

Councilman Das Williams suggested the bans be considered separately, because the Styrofoam ban is a “no-brainer,” he said, referring to other products that can be used for storage and the negative effects of the substance.

Styrofoam is made from crude oil, a nonrenewable resource that can easily break apart and get into water streams and cause major damage, the students said.

Santa Barbara and other cities that use the Tajiguas landfill are also required to limit their trash input over the next few years. Santa Barbara already diverts about 64 percent of its trash from the landfill, and must reach 70 percent by 2010.

The bans will be discussed by the Solid Waste Committee, and then be sent to the Ordinance Committee before the City Council makes any decision.

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