San Diego Expands Recycling Program to Include Polystyrene, Rejects Product Ban

San Diego residents who receive recycling services through the city can add foam cups and to-go boxes to curbside pickup, as the City Council unanimously approved the addition of expanded polystyrene (EPS) food service containers -- commonly known as Styrofoam -- to the city’s curbside recycling program last week.

EPS has been a target for environmental groups who advocate banning the product from restaurants. Repeated efforts to enact a statewide ban have failed in the State Capitol, so cities have been the focus for these groups in recent months.

The bans are costly, with some estimates noting impacts to certain small businesses ranging over $15,000 a year. As the San Diego Trib reported last week, “San Diego has decided to take a more business-friendly approach by allowing the containers, which restaurants and other businesses consider highly cost-effective, to be placed in blue recycling bins.”

“By expanding what we’re able to recycle, we’re moving in the right direction as we try to reduce, reuse and recycle as much of the trash we collect every day as we can,” said Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer. “The City of San Diego continues to be an environmental leader with a ‘Zero Waste’ plan that is among the most aggressive in the country. We’re creating a cleaner San Diego and serving as a model for other cities to follow.”

By expanding its recycling services, San Diego can also meet its sustainability goals without disrupting local business. It’s a completely different approach than the one taken by cities like San Francisco which have banned Styrofoam products altogether. Businesses say those bans cost them thousands of dollars by forcing them to use pricier, less durable paper products.

Key to San Diego’s program is the use of a secondary processor who will sort the residual recycling stream to maximize recovery and divert materials from the landfill.