Apr 13, 2023 - News

Memo recommends polystyrene ban to protect water

Photo: Cole Burston/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Austin Watershed Protection Department officials say city leaders should consider a ban on fast-food containers made of polystyrene, or Styrofoam, to reduce waste in local waterways.

Driving the news: The April 10 memo, first reported by the Austin Monitor, recommends that the Council evaluate the possibility of a citywide ban for polystyrene takeaway containers.

  • The memo also recommends new ordinances and incentives to encourage businesses to use carryout bags, designating a "trash czar" to coordinate trash management strategies and revising code to reduce overflowing dumpsters.

Why it matters: Those fast-food containers are ugly eyesores in our waterways. Plus they're not great for fish and wildlife.

The big picture: Polystyrene is slow to degrade and can leach chemicals into the environment. The manufacture of polystyrene also contributes to global warming, per the Children's Environmental Health Network.

  • Polystyrene is banned in at least a dozen cities, including New York, Washington, Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., according to CEHN.

Flashback: This week's memo updated members on a 2020 resolution launching a study on litter in lakes and creeks, and offered recommendations to reduce trash and improve cleanup.

  • The council passed the 2020 resolution after concerns of an uptick in e-scooters found in waterways.

By the numbers: In a 2022 field study of 110 miles of waterways, the Watershed Protection Department found only 21 scooters.

  • Department officials said the low number was likely due to fewer permitted e-scooters since 2020, an improved process for reporting to 311 and an updated removal process.

Yes, but: The study also revealed overflowing trash bins, single-use plastics in the creeks, encampments and longtime dumping sites.

What's next: The City Council can consider whether to move forward with the department's recommendation for a polystyrene ban, trash czar and other suggestions to clean waterways.


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