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San Diego is preparing to enforce its long-awaited foam ban. Who might get a reprieve?

David Garrick, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in News & Features

A ban in Los Angeles also takes effect next month. San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland already have bans.

Supporters of the ban say foam products poison marine life and damage the health of people who eat seafood, because foam is not biodegradable and continuously breaks into steadily smaller pieces.

Often sold under the brand name Styrofoam, the products — made of the chemical polystyrene — enter local waterways and easily get consumed by wildlife after they break down into much smaller pieces.

Nearly all national and regional restaurant chains long ago stopped using polystyrene in response to lobbying from environmental groups and backlash from customers concerned that foam isn't biodegradable.

But many taco shops, pizza parlors, convenience stores and other small businesses continue to use foam products to save money.

To soften the impact on those businesses, San Diego's proposed ban includes delays and hardship exemptions.


Businesses with annual gross revenues of less than $500,000 don't need to comply with the ban for the first year after it takes effect, giving them until April 2024. No waiver applications are required for this exemption.

There are also hardship exemptions for businesses that either can't find any reasonable alternative to polystyrene or have entered into long-term contracts for non-compliant products before the new city law takes effect.

Businesses seeking those waivers must apply for an exemption and have it granted, which could come with special conditions.

Jennifer Ott, a city recycling specialist spearheading enforcement of the ban, said officials will take an education-first approach, with enforcement and fines coming only after warnings and attempts to get businesses into compliance.


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