Photo of a decades-old McDonald's container dispalyed at Oxnard City Hall. (Screenshot by Alex Wilson)

Environmental impacts detailed in staff report

People visiting restaurants in Oxnard may soon no longer see their food served in containers made of expanded polystyrene, which is commonly known as Styrofoam. The Oxnard City Council voted unanimously on Jan. 3 to move ahead with an ordinance banning the use of the single-use products. 

The move follows similar decisions by other cities in Ventura County including Ojai, which was the first to ban the products in 2014. Ventura and Thousand Oaks passed bans in 2020 and Camarillo followed in 2021.

An Oxnard city staff report cited concerns over the environmental impacts of the products which are slow to degrade and can leach chemicals into the environment when improperly disposed of, potentially harming water sources. The report also said Styrofoam is hard to clean up from Oxnard’s creeks, beaches and parks because it breaks apart into tiny pieces known as microplastics which can have negative impacts on wildlife.

“These microplastics are commonly ingested by marine animals and can lead to starvation as the animals’ stomachs fill with indigestible plastic. Larger pieces can suffocate or entangle sea creatures,” the report stated.

About 1,300 Oxnard businesses will be potentially impacted by the ban, according to city officials. Potential fines for failing to comply start at $100 and could rise to $500 for a third violation. But the ordinance will not be enforced for the first year, which should give businesses a chance to adjust.

There were a number of exemptions made to the ordinance. Food that is prepared and packaged outside the city for sale within city limits will not be affected. The fishing industry will still be allowed to ship products in Styrofoam containers for safety reasons.

During the meeting Councilmember Gabe Teran made a point about how long Styrofoam products can pollute the environment by displaying a picture of a discovery a constituent made while cleaning up some bushes that line Ventura Boulevard about two years ago. The photo showed a Styrofoam McDonald’s restaurant container that was only sold until the early 1990s, Teran said.

“And so you can see how this piece survived all that time looking pretty much the way it looked when it came out of the restaurant,” Teran said.

There were no public speakers at the meeting either in support of the ban or against it. A final vote by the council is set for Jan. 17.