ATASCADERO -— More than half a dozen Atascadero residents spoke to the City Council during the community forum portion of a meeting Tuesday, expressing concern about litter and asking the council to join other cities in the county by banning styrofoam food containers.
“It is up to all of us to protect and enhance this precious environment that we are fortunate to live in,” said Marty Brown, an Atascadero resident since 1972. “The issue of concern that brings me and others here this evening is litter — specifically styrofoam.”
The handful of speakers pointed out several concerns regarding polystyrene foam — commonly known as styrofoam — including toxic chemicals leaching from styrofoam food containers into food and causing cancer, the large amount of time that styrofoam takes to decompose, and the pollution of beaches and water ways and the subsequent harm to wildlife.
“As a longtime volunteer at a local wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center, I have witnessed birds and other animals chocking and starving because of ingested styrofoam,” Brown said. “It breaks your heart, mainly because this suffering and death could have been easily avoided.”
Speaker Debbie Buckheim said that she’s participated in beach clean-ups where truck load after truck load of styrofoam were removed. She also recounted witnessing the horrific effects of styrofoam on wildlife first-hand as a supervisor at Pacific Wildlife Rescue.
“This little bird came to us emaciated and weak,” she said. “The cause, we found, was the result of styrofoam debris that he had maybe mistaken for food. It was lodged in his throat, preventing food from entering his stomach. As a result, in his weakened and starved condition, he died in my hands before we could help him. I know most of us will never have direct experience of what our human actions will have on other creatures. But if you care for other species at all, you will do whatever is in your power to avoid as much damage to them as possible.”
Local food service industry veteran Emily Chapman pointed out that while the cost of styrofoam food containers continues to rise, the cost of eco-friendly alternatives continues to fall. Currently, styrofoam containers cost about 10 cents each and eco-friendly containers cost about 17 cents each, Chapman said.
“Please realize that the cost associated with changing to eco-friendly is not a viable argument not to join the ban,” Chapman said. “Styrofoam has always been an environmental nightmare.”
While the issue of styrofoam was not on the council’s agenda, and thus off limits for action or too much discussion, Mayor Tom O’Malley said that it could be a future topic of discussion.
“I always like to see a countywide solution rather than city-by-city, but I would agree that it’s hard to find any value in styrofoam,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do in that area (recycling), and styrofoam is one component of that. I think it’s a topic we’ll take a look at. I wouldn’t rule out that discussion.”
Atascadero resident Dana Holland also came to the council with a concern about the local environment, asking the council to look into cleaning up litter along Atascadero Creek.
“There’s toilet paper lining the creek at the high water mark,” Holland said. “It’s all the way from here at City Hall to the Salinas River and it all comes from vagrancy — not the homeless, the homeless have a place to go, we provide for that and they take advantage of it — the vagrancy, the people who choose not to have a roof over their head and choose to use drugs. We need to take pride in our community. The water that comes from this creek ends up in Monterey Bay. Please, look into cleaning up the creek and taking care of the vagrancy and cleaning up the toilet paper.”
Police representative Caleb Davis responded to Holland’s concerns, saying that a camping ordinance enacted in the city two years ago has given the police the ability to address the local homeless problem.
“With that ordinance that we put into place a couple of years ago now, we’re actually able to use that on a daily basis — just another resource for us to try and find proper housing for the homeless if we can, or enforce the law. We routinely contact the homeless population and try to get them to use the shelter.”