Flawed Studies and Misleading Statements Lead to EPS Ban in San Francisco

By: John Cowan, Regional Sales Manager

San Fran with Cup

Note: ACH Foam Technologies does not manufacture food and beverage EPS.

Last summer the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance banning EPS products to include transport packaging, coolers, beach toys, and other EPS products. According to the Board of Supervisors, this progressive legislation was long overdue. It is one of the most stringent EPS bans in the country.  Let’s take a look at some of the “rationale” behind the ban.

The Board relied on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for information about polystyrene foam.  The EPA states, “such materials can have serious impacts on human health, wildlife, and aquatic environment and the economy.” A pretty strong argument until you take a closer look. The Board of Supervisor’s Ordinance takes this statement along with many other pieces of information that are not necessarily related to each other, specifically referencing styrene’s ill effects on health, to formulate the conclusion that EPS should be banned.  The chemical styrene and polystyrene are recognized as distinctly different materials by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) as noted in their report, “Response to Comments Pertaining to the Notice of Intent to List Styrene as Causing Cancer Under Proposition 65.” While styrene is a building block chemical used to make the raw material for expanded polystyrene (EPS), there is often a great deal of confusion and a false impression that they are the same when in reality they are very different materials with unique chemical compositions.

Additional information reviewed by the Board of Supervisors was litter.  Ordinance No. 140-16, Section 2e states “disposable food service ware and packaging foam constitute a significant source of litter on San Francisco’s street, parks, and public places, and the costs of managing this litter is substantial.”

Upon closer examination according to the 2008 City of San Francisco Streets Litter Re-Audit, polystyrene makes up only 1.07% of the total volume in the large litter category and ranks 13 out of 16 in small litter categories at 2.5%. By comparison there were 5 times the amount of paper cups reported in the same litter study.

In another study concerning contamination in San Francisco Bay polystyrene was not categorized separately but was lumped in with other items such as cigarette butts.

The list of “reasons” to ban EPS goes on and on with no evidence to support the position. When you take the time to examine why the ban was initiated, you find very flawed or misleading statements & points of view.

Lastly, the City of San Francisco has no recycling program for EPS although it is 100% recyclable.  Many cities across the U.S. have developed successful recycling programs.  There are resources available to learn about how to recycle EPS, manufacturers such as ACH Foam Technologies, EPS Industry Alliance, and Dart Container’s Home For Foam program.


EPA Document “Assessing and Monitoring Floating Debris,” 2002.
HDR for The City of San Francisco San Francisco Environment Department, “The City of San Francisco Streets Litter Re-Audit,” 2008.
OEHAA, “Response to Comments Pertaining to the Notice of Intent to List Styrene as Causing Cancer under Proposition 65,” April 2016.
Rebecca Sutton, Sherri A. Mason, Shavonne K. Stanek, Ellen Willis-Norton, Ian F. Wren c , Carolynn Box, “Microplastic contamination in the San Francisco Bay, California, USA,” May 28, 2016.
San Francisco Board of Supervisors Breed, Peskin, Mar, Campos, and Cohen, “Environment Code – Food Service and Packaging Waste Reduction,” Ordinance No. 140-16, File No. 160383, July 12, 2016.
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