Keep Tahoe Blue News
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The League to Save Lake Tahoe commends the City of South Lake Tahoe for its new law protecting Lake Tahoe from polystyrene litter. Data from the League’s beach and community cleanups, which provided support for the ordinance, has found single-use polystyrene items to be among the most common litter items found along Lake Tahoe’s shoreline.
“This is great news for Lake Tahoe,” said Marilee Movius, the League’s community engagement manager, who led advocacy efforts for the law’s passage. “By protecting the Lake from these harmful products, the City of South Lake Tahoe is setting an example for how communities can protect our most precious natural treasures.
What is polystyrene?
Polystyrene is a type of plastic used to make a wide variety of consumer products. In one common form, polystyrene is made into a foam material, called expanded polystyrene, and is used to make products such as foam coolers, plates and other food containers.* Another common type of polystyrene is used to make harder plastic products such as disposable knives and forks.
In developing its ordinance, the city relied heavily on data provided by the League. Between 2015 and 2017, League and community volunteers removed over 5,000 pieces of disposable expanded polystyrene products—including coolers, plates and clamshell containers—and 4,500 plastic straws and utensils from Lake Tahoe’s shoreline. Polystyrene is not biodegradable, is costly and difficult to recycle, and breaks down into smaller particles that pose a threat to Tahoe’s wildlife.
Under South Lake Tahoe’s new rules, food providers and other local businesses must end local sale or distribution of many disposable polystyrene products by the time the ordinance takes effect in October. The city has also banned use of disposable polystyrene products from the city’s own facilities and events. In addition, South Lake Tahoe restaurants and other food providers will only be allowed to provide plastic cutlery, plastic beverage straws, and plastic stirrers upon request by a customer.
“By eliminating the local sources of single-use polystyrene products, the City of South Lake Tahoe is helping to protect Lake Tahoe now and for future generations,” said Movius. “But our work is not done. The best way to protect the Lake from plastic pollution is for more people to choose reusable options over disposables, and to to take their litter with them when they leave.”
In addition to advocating for the City of South Lake Tahoe’s new polystyrene ordinance, the League supports the city’s vision for a prohibition on disposable polystyrene products being enacted throughout the entire Lake Tahoe Basin.
“The Lake does not know jurisdictional boundaries, so while the City of South Lake Tahoe has done the right thing, other jurisdictions in Tahoe should follow their lead and pass similar ordinances,” said Jesse Patterson, the League’s deputy director. “We will be using the City’s example to encourage others to do the right thing.
* This type of expanded polystyrene foam is often colloquially referred to as “styrofoam,” although in proper use, Styrofoam is a trademarked term referring only to certain types of foam produced by the Dow Chemical Company.