Anti-litter group presents proposed polystyrene ban to Friday Harbor Town Council today

— Editor's note: This story originally reported that the San Juan Island Anti-Litter Initiative is pursuing a countywide ban on all polystyrene products. The initiative seeks a ban on polystyrene food service products such as cups, plates and clam shells used for disposal “take out” food service. This story has been corrected.

The end could be near for Styrofoam to-go containers and other polystyrene food service products.

Members of the San Juan Anti-Litter Initiative are introducing a proposed ordinance that would ban polystyrene food service products. They will present the proposed ordinance Thursday, noon, to the Friday Harbor Town Council and June 8, 11:15 a.m., to the San Juan County Council.

More than 1,000 islanders and visitors have signed a petition supporting the ban, according to Doris Estabrooks, who's led a three-year campaign against the use of Styrofoam to-go containers in the San Juans.

Estabrooks, who's achieved in-roads with numerous local merchants that have now either cut back or discontinued the use of such products voluntarily, believes a countywide ban has strong support and that it is the next logical step. She said council members won't have to re-invent the wheel, as numerous cities and counties across the U.S. already have similar bans and legislation to back it up in place.

"It's a no-brainer," she said.

Estabrooks said several restaurant owners have discovered that Styrofoam containers are now more expensive than containers made from other materials.

"Now that should carry a lot of weight," she said.

Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a petroleum-based product that can be toxic and can leach out of products made from it. It is not biodegradable and can break up into pieces that then can either choke or clog an animal's digestive systems should it somehow be consumed. Petroleum-based products can be a threat to human health and reproductive systems.

In addition to being a primary ingredient in "to-go" containers, polystyrene is used as a building material, in manufacturing electrical appliances, and in other household items.

Lori Stokes of the Anti-Litter Initiative said the presentation will include proposed legislation modeled after bans already in effect in several other prominent West Coast cities, like Seattle and Portland. She said a heavy dose of public outreach about product alternatives should follow any approved ban.

There would be need for exemptions, such as packaging trays that hold meat and fish products, because, she said, a cost-effective alternative has yet to be developed.

Stokes said education and alternatives will be a priority so that local merchants can climb aboard rather than "feel attacked."

"These are people we want to support, not drive out of business," she said.

Ultimately, Estabrooks said, the environment and future generations will benefit by through the reduction and elimination of products made of polystyrene.

"There's enough messes out there to worry about without Styrofoam," she said.

The Friday Harbor Town Council in 2007 declared town-owned buildings to be "Styrofoam Free Zones," committing the town to purchasing and using products that do not contain Styrofoam. The ban applies only to town-owned buildings, such as Town Hall.

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