Plastic foam issue

People enjoy the dining along Honolulu Ave. in February. (Roger Wilson/Staff photographer / February 18, 2013)

While several City Council candidates said they’d be willing to look into a plastic foam container ban at a campaign forum Thursday night, few would give a direct answer as to whether they would support such a law if elected.

Dozens of cities across the state, from San Clemente to Oakland, have banned polystyrene foam containers, commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam. The prohibitions mostly focus on take-out containers used at restaurants, but in Los Angeles County, a more limited restriction only impacts county-run facilities such as hospitals, golf courses and beach concession stands.

Nearly all the candidates at the League of Women Voters Glendale-Burbank forum at City Hall said Glendale must adopt environmentally-friendly regulations, but only a handful of the council hopefuls made their positions on plastic foam containers clear. Those who did were opposed to the ban.

Rick Barnes said the ban may be cost-prohibitive to businesses, and Chahe Keuroghelian said rather than focusing on take-out containers, the city should increase the number of recycling education programs.

Zareh Sinanyan, Edith Fuentes, Mike Mohill and Herbert Molano all said they would support environmentally-friendly policies, but Fuentes, a former city employee, said she wanted to avoid extremes. Sinanyan, an attorney, said any discussion of a ban would have to factor in the financial impacts on businesses.

“I think we need to proceed carefully, in a very thought-out manner,” Sinanyan said.

Several small businesses have complained about the costs after bans were imposed in other cities, but some larger establishments, such as McDonald’s and Starbucks, have embraced alternative products. Dunkin’ Donuts has switched to plastic cups in some of its stores affected by bans, but officials at the national chain have balked at recent calls to ban polystyrene foam containers in New York City.

Opponents point to pollution and health issues related to plastic foam, while proponents say alternatives, such as paper containers with plastic coatings, require more resources to make and may not be accepted by all recyclers.

While Councilwoman Laura Friedman said she thinks a ban in Glendale can be crafted, her colleague also running for re-election, Councilman Ara Najarian, disagreed.

“The problem with the Styrofoam cups or containers is, I’m not sure if there’s a viable [replacement] option out there,” he said.

Businesses that have had to make the switch use paper and corn-based biodegradable packaging.

Sam Engel said he prefers a statewide ban, but would support one locally if alternative products were available. A bill to prohibit food vendors from using plastic foam containers didn’t pass the state legislature last year, but a similar bill has already been introduced.

“There’s going to be city after city that does this until it reaches a tipping point and the state adopts its own rules,” Engel said.

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