In six months South Lake Tahoe restaurants will no longer be able to use expanded polystyrene — also know by the brand name Styrofoam — take-out containers.
On Tuesday, April 3, South Lake Tahoe City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance that bans the use of expanded polystyrene products at restaurants as well as the sale of foam coolers and single-use food containers at retail stores. Expanded polystyrene is already prohibited at special events held in the city.
The ordinance also limits the use of straws and plastic utensils at restaurants to an "on request" basis.
Expanded polystyrene is a cheap material used to make everything from packing peanuts to take-out food containers. It has a lengthy lifetime in landfills and breaks easily, resulting in small pieces finding their way into the environment.
Though polystyrene can be recycled, it rarely is; most municipal recycling plants don't accept it because it's bulky, difficult to clean and has a low resale value. South Tahoe Refuse and Recycling Service, the garbage collection service for the South Shore, does not recycle it.
The council began looking into the idea of a ban back in October 2017.
The new ordinance will go into effect on Oct. 3 and be enforced by South Lake Tahoe Police Department code enforcement officers. Warnings will be given through April 3, 2019, and citations, ranging from $100 – $500, will be issued thereafter.
"By eliminating the local sources of single-use polystyrene products, the city of South Lake Tahoe is helping to protect Lake Tahoe now and for future generations," said Marilee Movius, the League to Save Lake Tahoe's community engagement manager, who advocated for the law's passage.
"But our work is not done. The best way to protect the lake from plastic pollution is for more people to choose reusable options over disposables, and to take their litter with them when they leave."
Between 2015 and 2017, the League and its volunteers removed over 5,000 pieces of disposable expanded polystyrene products — including coolers, plates and containers — and 4,500 plastic straws and utensils from beaches.
While some restaurants worry about the additional cost of using recyclable, compostable or biodegradable products, a number of establishments have been using them for years — and others are fine making the switch.
"I don't think it's going to be a big impact, and I was already looking at the different materials and a new supplier before the ban," said Mutty Dangvijit, manager for Orchid Thai, which handles a lot of take-out meals. "Keep Tahoe blue!"