Ditching the Plastic Foam in San Diego

Imagine you have just finished an excellent meal at your favorite local restaurant. When you feel like you can’t fit any more into your stomach, the wait staff comes by to bring you a box for your leftovers. Of course, no one wants to waste food, however, you receive a box made from plastic foam, or more commonly referred to as Styrofoam  or polystyrene!

This conundrum still plagues many San Diego residents who want to be environmentally friendly, but their favorite restaurants are still using plastic foam to-go materials that are harmful to the environment.

Not to worry, San Diego Coastkeeper has been working to tackle this issue! Last week at our quarterly Signs of the Tide Event we took a closer look at the problem, and learned of some new ways to address this topic.

We had the City of San Diego recycling specialist, Donna Chralowicz, speak about why plastic foam is so bad, and what the city is doing to change it habits. Because of it’s lightweight properties, plastic foam transports easily if not disposed of properly, is non-degradable and breaks apart quickly, and is also not easily recyclable. The City has now decided to reduce its use of plastic foam at the operations level and at all city-sanctioned events. As of January 2012, plastic foam cannot be purchased by the city. Sounds like a great step in the right direction!

Local restaurant/business owner of Raglan Public House and Bareback Grill, Michael Zouroudis, spoke towards colleagues in the his industry about making the switch to zero styro. He strives to reach customers who appreciate the extra effort of making this switch. Obviously, the hardest part for restaurants to make that switch is investing more money into the to-go part of their business, which can be up to twice as expensive. Even though doing the “right thing” will mean more financial sacrifice, customers will appreciate it.

After San Diego Coastkeeper started logging trash picked up during beach clean-ups in 2007, it quickly became apparent that Styrofoam was all too common. Alicia Glassco with the San Diego Coastkeeper Marine Debris Program lobbied for a more proactive approach to eliminating polystyrene from our beaches. Local residents have to urge restaurants to make the switch away from polystyrene. Residents also need to rally for change for the entire jurisdiction. It’s easier for restaurants to make the switch if they are all forced to do so at the same time.

So, what can we do next time we are handed a box made from plastic foam after our dining experience? Check out these options:

  1. Re-usable is the best alternative to polystyrene (or any to-go materials). Bring your own box when you eat out!
  2. Talk/write/lobby to your local elected officials about a change
  3. Encourage your favorite restaurant to switch to an alternative to polystyrene. Check out styrofreeSD.org for a list of good alternatives, facts about Styrofoam, and for educational cards to help promote change in local restaurants.