Town Council will hold public hearing on proposed Styrofoam ban

The Friday Harbor Town Council will set a public hearing within the next three weeks on a proposed ban on Styrofoam to-go containers and other polystyrene food service products within the town limits.

The proposed ban was presented today by chief proponent Doris Estabrooks and Stephanie Buffum Field, director of Friends of the San Juans; they are members of the San Juan Anti-Litter Initiative. They will present the proposed ordinance 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 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. In an earlier interview, she said council members wouldn't have to re-invent the wheel, as numerous cities and counties across the U.S. already have similar bans and legislation 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 proposed legislation is modeled after bans already in effect in 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. It includes an exemptions for 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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