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San Diego is the latest California city to ban single-use plastics

The San Diego City Council passed a Single Use Plastic Reduction Ordinance on Tuesday. The council passed an identical ordinance back in January 2019, but it was stalled due to litigation.

The new law covers a long list of polystyrene products, including polystyrene foam food service ware, food trays, egg cartons, coolers, ice chests, pool or beach toys and dock floats, mooring buoys, anchor or navigation markers.

Polystyrene foam products won't be allowed at city facilities, and city departments will not be able to purchase or acquire food service ware made from polystyrene foam either. Food vendors will only be able to offer single use utensils and straws upon request.


The Surfrider Foundation's, San Diego County policy coordinator Mitch Silverstein spoke at the city council meeting and was happy with the overwhelming 7-1 vote in favor of the ban.

“All these small local steps are the way to create that snowball effect, so that we can have state and federal and international action to replace single use plastic with better alternatives,” Silverstein said.

The Surfrider Foundation said plastic makes up more than 80% of what they find during beach cleanups just in San Diego.

“Every week there's a new study that comes out that shows that they’re finding microplastics in human bodies, it’s in fish. It’s basically everywhere,” Silverstein said. “They found it in breast milk and human placentas even.”

The Surfrider Foundation has been working on this ordinance since 2018.


“Times have changed. Public perception and awareness of the plastic pollution issue has increased exponentially,” Silverstein said, “Unfortunately, the problem is increasing exponentially as well, so it makes it even more important for us and for communities to take action.”

And Silverstein said recycling plastic is not a solution.  

“The industry has always told us that we can recycle it, but it’s actually not true, it’s basically a myth. Plastic recycling is less than 10% and the industry has been telling us that for over 40 years that recycling is the way to do it and it’s really so that they can maintain business as usual,” Silverstein said.

“It’s a human health issue. It’s an environment issue. It’s a climate issue," said UC San Diego sophomore Byul Sak, the chapter chair for CALPIRG UCSD. She was one of four students who spoke at Tuesday's meeting.

"It’s so imperative that our voices are heard because at the end of the day it’s not the decision makers that will be living in the future that they shape, we’re the ones that will be living in that future,” Sak told KPBS. "We live in an economy that encourages us to buy, use and toss at the greatest possible speed, and the system has been built around some of these plastics like containers, shopping bags, utensils and packaging ,creating millions of tons of unnecessary waste and consuming an enormous amount of natural resources.”

Silverstein was pleased to see student involvement in the issue. “It really brings tears to my eyes literally... to see our youth so engaged today, because they’re literally fighting for their future. They’re fighting to live on a livable planet where they can go to the beach and not have to see trash everywhere.”

San Diego is the largest city in California to ban styrofoam. Currently, more than 100 cities, including seven other cities in this county already have styrofoam restrictions in place.

“All these small local steps are the way to create that snowball effect, so that we can have state and federal and international action to replace single use plastic with better alternatives,” Silverstein said.

The ordinance goes into effect on April 1, 2023, but there are three waivers available:

  1. A feasibility-based hardship in the case that no reasonably feasible alternative to polystyrene foam exists.
  2. A financial hardship for entities with income of less than $500,000 per year and for which there is no suitable and reasonably affordable alternative product available. A one year
  3. Contractual requirement where a one-year waiver is available for entities with a contract to purchase noncompliant material that was in place before the effective date of the ordinance.