The Huntington Beach City Council is looking to add polystyrene food containers to its banned items list.

Council members voted 5 to 2, with Mayor Pro Tem Matthew Harper and Councilman Joe Carchio dissenting, to advise staff to write up two ordinances that would ban local food vendors from using polystyrene products, like Styrofoam, to package food.

One draft would be based on San Bruno's rules, which require businesses to use biodegradable, compostable, reusable or recyclable alternatives. It would allow the city manager to make exemptions to those who cannot find other products to use and exempts the polystyrene coolers that residents and visitors often take to the beach. This version would also establish ways to enforce the policy, possibly with fines.

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  • Topics
  • Dining and Drinking
  • Restaurant and Catering Industry
  • Consumers

The polystyrene ban would not just focus on food containers but also other products made from the plastic material, including cup lids, straws and utensils.

The other drafted ordinance would be less harsh, focusing solely on the white polystyrene food containers.

"It's very hopeful that school children from our city are very well-educated," Councilman Joe Shaw said, commenting on the group of Pegasus School students who have given public testimony on the pitfalls of polystyrene. "They studied this topic.

"They know the ins and outs of it, and they seem to know the ins and outs of it better than our assemblyman and ... better than some of our councilmen."

Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) made an appearance Monday night to oppose the move backed by Mayor Connie Boardman, saying a ban would limit choice and raise costs for consumers.

"The problem with the ban is it tries to change a human behavior, littering, by imposing costly and burdensome requirements on the business community," he said.

He added that polystyrene isn't the problem but rather the people who do not recycle the material.

Carchio said the local Rainbow Environmental Services recycled around 30 tons of polystyrene last year, turning it into other products like picture frames and crown molding.

He added that the city should instead continue educating the public on recyling.

"We should continue that public education so our residents know how to put Styrofoam in the blue bins and containers," Carchio said. "I really don't think that we really have a problem with Styrofoam, but I think that we have a problem with littering."

The councilman argued that alternative containers, such as the 30-cent polypropylene products used in Newport Beach, would increase the price of the product for consumers and potentially hurt sales for businesses.

Shaw said the item Carchio was holding — polypropylene — was among the most expensive alternatives in the market and that there were cheaper food packaging products.

"Common sense tells me that if restaurants in Dana Point, Laguna Beach and Newport Beach can afford to buy different containers and not go out of business, so can the restaurants in Huntington Beach," Shaw said.

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Paper-bag fee

In other news Monday, Carchio's suggestion to repeal the 10-cent fee for paper bags failed to garner enough interest for a vote. The fee takes effect Nov. 1.

The councilman's recommendation was to phase out the fee — charging customers 10 cents the first six months of the plastic bag ban, then 5 cents for another six months, with the paper-bag fee being lifted come November 2014.

Council members voted instead on a substitute motion by Councilman Dave Sullivan to repeal the fee immediately. It failed 3 to 4, with Carchio, Harper and Sullivan voting in favor.

"You're robbing these 10 cents from the consumers," Carchio said. "You're taking this out of their pockets. We're giving them a whole year to educate the public to use reusable bags, and they will do it. Give the consumers something back. You've already taken the plastic bag away from them."