By Arianna Puopolo
Next time you sip your morning coffee, you might notice a difference in the cup encasing your caffeine fix.
Santa Cruz County established a polystyrene ban on Jan. 31, prohibiting the use of polystyrene materials in all businesses throughout the city.
Polystyrene is a type of foam used for insulating food and beverages in coolers, coffee cups and to-go containers. It is most commonly used in a particular form called expanded polystyrene (EPS) or Styrofoam, which is formed by combining polystyrene and a gas through a source of heat-like steam.
This ban means your new and improved coffee cup will no longer be made out of Styrofoam.
Due to its lightweight and minimal value, polystyrene is difficult to recycle and can be harmful for the environment and wildlife.
According to the Californians Against Waste (CAW) website, polystyrene contributes to landfills and poses a threat to the well-being of birds and marine life that can confuse polystyrene for food. Ingesting polystyrene prevents the absorption of nutrients into animals’ bodies and can result in starvation.
By banning polystyrene in businesses, Santa Cruz County has moved one step closer to completely eliminating the material.
Many Santa Cruz businesses that are subject to the ban, such as Jamba Juice, are also beginning to convert to more environmentally friendly packaging materials.
According to Tom Suiter, a spokesperson for Jamba Juice, the company’s smoothies are typically sold in polystyrene cups. Yet in cities like Capitola, Laguna Beach, Portland, Oakland, Berkeley and Santa Cruz, where there are bans, Jamba Juice adheres to the anti-polystyrene policy.
“When [a] ban goes into effect, Jamba Juice will fully comply,” Suiter said.
Although there are no promises for universal reform in the immediate future, Suiter said that Jamba Juice is exploring alternatives for Styrofoam cups.
As Santa Cruz businesses look for alternative means for Styrofoam, UCSC is not officially participating in the ban, because all University of California campuses are exempt from the California State Constitution local laws.
According to Jennifer Ward, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President (UCOP), UC campuses are exempt from most state bans because they are independent from the state.
“The UC stands on its own,” Ward said. “We generally just work as a state group.”
However, Ward said that the UC’s independence from certain legislations does not interfere with the relationship that each campus has with its local community.
“We do everything possible to support and work with [the communities] on a number of efforts,” Ward said. “The university’s track record with sustainability is very good.”
Aurora Winslade, UCSC alumna and current campus sustainability coordinator, agrees. She said, “I think we’re lucky to be on a campus that has so many staff and students who are so concerned with being sustainable.”
In order to help maintain sustainability of the campus, Winslade encourages students to voice their concerns about the environment and the recent ban to the Campus Sustainability department.
“It’s great to have people asking [questions about campus sustainability], so we can identify where there are holes,” Winslade said.
Many independently-owned restaurants at UCSC are also doing their part to help the environment by using alternative packaging materials for Styrofoam.
According to Juan Moreno, owner and manger of UCSC’s Tacos Moreno, the restaurant is going to distribute biodegradable to-go boxes in place of the old polystyrene boxes.
“It’s a personal decision, based on increasing global warming,” he said.
Moreno, who established the restaurant a year and a half ago, estimates that since the opening of Tacos Moreno, it has distributed approximately 200 polystyrene boxes each month.
As restaurants and businesses continue to convert their cups and boxes to non-degradable materials to help the environment, many cities like Watsonville and Scotts Valley have yet to implement such a ban.