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Bump in the road for proposed Styrofoam ban

Supporters of a proposal that would ban the use of Styrofoam to-go containers and polystyrene food service products in San Juan County gathered more than 1,200 signatures of like-minded people to help boost their cause.

But it proved a much tougher sell before the County Council.

In a 3-2 decision, the council last week fell one vote shy of sending a proposed ban, presented by the San Juan Anti-Litter Initiative and modeled after similar legislation in effect in Seattle, onward and into the process by which it could be crafted into local law. Councilman Bob Myhr, Lopez/Shaw, was absent from the June 8 meeting.

Councilman Gene Knapp, Orcas West, and Chairman Rich Peterson, North San Juan, each noted the council is faced with cutting roughly $1 million or more in order to balance this year's budget and that enforcing such a ban would create additional demands on a workforce that's already stretched in keeping up with existing workloads. Though supportive of the concept, Peterson and Knapp advocated for voluntary measures and for increased public education rather than implementing new legislation which the county would be obligated to enforce.

"In my opinion the timing is bad given what's going on with the budget," Knapp said. "I don't see any way the county can enforce this. I don't want to pass a law and then tell people we can't enforce it."

Peterson noted members of the Initiative, according to their own statistics, have persuaded about 50 percent of the restaurants and businesses they've talk with about the dangers of polystyrene to switch to alternative types of containers. He asked whether the council, short of passing a law, could help in getting more local merchants to jump onboard by passing a resolution that would emphasize the health and environmental hazards of polystyrene.

"I support what you're trying to do," Peterson said, "but I'm troubled by an ordinance."

Styrofoam is made from polystyrene, a petroleum-based ingredient that can be toxic and leach out of products made from it. It is non-biodegradable and can break into pieces that can then either choke an animal or clog its digestive system if consumed. Petroleum-based products pose a threat to human health and reproductive systems.

Stephanie Buffum-Fields, director of Friends of the San Juans and member of the Anti-Litter group, believes a ban would send a message that the community values the effort to rid itself of hazardous chemicals and products, especially when cost-effective alternatives exist. Public education, she added, can be costly and can be ignored.

"I think codified our values is a worthwhile endeavor," she said.

So does Councilwoman Lovel Pratt, who, along with council members Howie Rosenfeld and Richard Fralick, voted for the proposal.

"This is something I think we need to have happen in our county," Rosenfeld said.

And it may well.

At Pratt's insistence, the council agreed to reconsider its stance on the proposed ban when it meets July 14. Councilman Myhr is expected to attend that meeting.

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