November 24, 2009
Polystyrene ban is a solid first step
Issaquah became a leader in the effort to ban difficult-to-recycle polystyrene last week. The legislation represents a watershed moment as Issaquah seeks to set the regional standard in sustainability issues. Polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, is tough to recycle and can be tough on the environment.We applaud city leaders for the bold act, and extend special recognition to Councilman Joshua Schaer, who shepherded the bill to a vote and extended the olive branch to business leaders as the bill was pieced together.
Schaer and his colleagues retooled the bill with exemptions friendly to wary businesses and delayed the effective date until Oct. 1, 2010. Businesses can begin the Styrofoam switchover as soon as January, when a voluntary period begins.
Exemptions for hardship and other snags are also included in the law. Grocers, restaurateurs and everyone else with a salad bar or a soda fountain can delay the effective date, with a good reason, until May 1, 2011.
Officials built in 45 weeks between the time the council passed the measure and the day the ban clicks into place. The lead time is enough for businesses to deplete stocks of Styrofoam to-go boxes and find cost-effective compostable or recyclable replacements.
Hiccups are bound to occur as the ban is rolled out, and the phased approach will allow for opportunities to solve problems along the way.
But the bill is not flawless, and we had issues with the eye-popping cost: More than $56,000 was set aside to educate business owners about the law.
Although we support the education and outreach effort, we have many questions about how the city administration intends to pay for the proposal, especially after enacting service cuts and layoffs through 2009. Options that shift the cost to city rate- and taxpayers would be yet another burden — and not to mention a tough sell — to citizens struggling in a bad economy. We hope the questions will be answered as the council finalizes the 2010 city budget.
Councilwoman Eileen Barber brought up good economic and environmental questions during the council debate last week. Barber wants the city to consider a polystyrene-recycling program to haul away everything from drink cups to the packaging that nestles TVs during shipping.
Leaders should give the request serious study. A polystyrene-recycling program would further protect the environment — and provide Issaquah with another way to distinguish itself as a sustainability leader.