Long Beach to begin enforcing its ban on styrofoam products in June

The city's law was adopted in 2018, but city officials say enforcement of the ban was delayed as the city dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and a citywide staffing shortage.

Long Beach to begin enforcing its ban on styrofoam products in June
A stock image of a taco in a styrofoam container. Photo courtesy of Pexels

This June, Long Beach will begin enforcing its ban on styrofoam products, a move that could usher in hundreds of dollars in fines for non-compliant stores and restaurants.

The ban was originally adopted in 2018 as the City Council sought to reduce pollution from polystyrene foam products and to get businesses to pivot to more sustainable options for packaging food and other products.

However, enforcement has been hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the city to abandon the idea of using health department employees to help monitor the program. The city’s ongoing hiring issues have also been a roadblock. In recent months, the city has reported a staffing vacancy rate of roughly 22%.

“There hasn't been a lot of enforcement because there hasn't been a lot of staff to do enforcement,” said Christopher Koontz, the city’s director of Community Development.

While the initial law applied to items like styrofoam egg cartons, to-go food containers and ice chests, the council later expanded the city law to include plastic straws and required those only to be given out on request.

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The law was supposed to be phased in after its adoption in April 2018 with the city and city-hosted events being in the first tier of compliance and smaller businesses and franchises needing to comply within 18 months.

City officials said a complaint portal has received 68 complaints since 2020, but starting in June those complaints will be followed up with a visit from city staff. If a violation is confirmed, the business would have 30 days to comply or face a citation.

The first citation would cost an operator $105. Businesses that remain out of compliance with the foam ban could be issued a second citation of $210 and every citation after that would cost $525, Koontz said. The city would be able to issue a citation every day after a third citation is issued.

There is some skepticism that the law will be enforced.

Paul Buchanan, a co-owner of Primal Alchemy, pointed to big-box stores that still offer styrofoam products to businesses despite the ban being in place for nearly six years.

“Smart & Final doesn’t care,” Buchanan said. “Smart & Final has huge aisles of styrofoam. They could fill this room with styrofoam right now. They don’t care.”

City officials said that they are confident that a combination of education and enforcement starting later this year will help bring businesses into compliance. But a new state law could the issue out of the city’s hands.

Erin Rowland, the city’s general superintendent for Public Works, said that Senate Bill 54, which will set new recycling markers for single-use plastic food packaging, could end up banning styrofoam products in the state. Rowland noted that foam products have a recycling rate of about 2% and the bill would require a minimum of 25% once it’s fully implemented.

“So, there is a thought that by 2025 [expanded polystyrene] might not even be allowed to be sold within the state,” Rowland said.