It’s Friday, December 9, and California’s two biggest cities have banned polystyrene.

In a major victory against plastic pollution, city council members in Los Angeles and San Diego voted on Tuesday to ban the distribution of expanded polystyrene, the foamy plastic used in disposable coffee cups and takeout food containers.

Starting next April, large companies in California’s two most populous cities will be prohibited from giving out or selling dishes, cups, and other products made from plastic foam. Smaller businesses will have an extra year to comply, and both bans make some exemptions for products like surfboards and coolers that are encased in a “more durable material.”

The two cities’ bans were passed after years of lobbying from environmental organizations, which argued that the benefits of expanded polystyrene — mostly its light weight and low price tag — were far outweighed by risks to the environment and public health. Not only does it crumble into fragments of microplastic, expanded polystyrene is made of a building block called styrene, classified as “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization. And like any plastic, polystyrene comes from fossil fuels and causes climate pollution when it’s produced, when it’s shipped, and — because virtually none of it is recycled — when it ultimately winds up  in a landfill, in an incinerator, or as litter in the natural environment.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Craig Cadwallader, policy coordinator for the nonprofit Surfrider South Bay and a member of Reusable LA, a coalition of groups that supported the polystyrene ban, said LA’s ban had to overcome “a lot of misinformation” on the alleged economic toll of moving away from polystyrene.

LA council members “didn’t want to be seen as being detrimental to small businesses,” Cadwallader told me. But if bans were really as harmful as the industry says, he added, the 158 polystyrene-related ordinances already on the books in cities and counties across California would have “wiped out businesses in a big way” — something that has not happened.

Once their mayors sign the measures into law — which they are expected to do — LA and San Diego will join hundreds of jurisdictions around the country that have moved to phase out plastic foam, including eight U.S. states. And thanks to a state law passed earlier this year — the Plastic Pollution Producer Responsibility Act — the material will soon be restricted across California.

In the news

‘Fate of the living world’ will be decided at COP15, say scientists
Damian Carrington, The Guardian
Read more

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Virginia air pollution board votes to leave regional carbon-credit program
Zack Budryk, The Hill
Read more

‘Burn everything’: Poland chokes on the smog of war
Marek Strzelecki and Kuba Stezycki, Reuters
Read more

African countries are tapping their fossil fuel wealth. Why aren’t they getting rich?
Lylla Younes, Grist
Read more

A pillar of the climate-smart agriculture movement is on shaky ground
Gabriel Popkin, Food & Environment Reporting Network
Read more

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!