Senator Lowenthal’s Bill to Ban Foam Containers in California

If signed into law, a bill by state Senator Alan Lowenthal would make California the first state to ban polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers, beginning in 2016.

There are already more than 50 cities and counties in California that ban these containers, including the city of Salinas.

The Santa Cruz based Save Our Shores website lists why polystyrene is a threat to communities:

  1. Polystyrene contains toxic chemicals that can leach out of the material into hot foods and beverages that humans consume
  2. In most cities, polystyrene cannot be recycled and it is not compostable
  3. Polystyrene never fully biodegrades and thus easily become litter, costing communities economically and environmentally.

Which is why I find it hard to believe that there are opponents to this bill — and find the negative responses short-sighted.  An article by Sheila Kumar of the Associated Press in yesterday’s Monterey Herald reported that opponents of the bill

  • say that it fails to address the root cause of litter — the litterers themselves.
  • and that litterers will toss out the containers whether they’re made of polystyrene or biodegradable cardboard (this according to Michael Westerfield, corporate director of recycling for Dart Container) and “At the end of the day, people that litter don’t care what type of product they’re littering” .

So, OK… I agree on the littering issue — and we need to look at why people litter, but Mr. Westerfield misses the point if you want to look at the litterer as a root cause to address.

  • If there is litter (such as on purpose litter by litter bugs, or by accident litter, e.g., because the container is blown away), the difference is really the litter material.  If the packaging material biodegrades in a few months time, then litter is a smaller problem than if it is a plastic material –Styrofoam being a form of plastic– that can take hundreds of years to break down and cause problems if washed out to sea.
  •  We have 840 miles of coastline in California.  A lot of plastic trash that gets into sewers, or that washes away during heavy rains can end up on our beaches—-and in the ocean.

The article cited one restaurant alone –BJ’s Kountry Kitchen — that uses about 26,000 of the 9 inch foam Styrofoam clamshell a year for customer take-out.  This is ONE restaurant!  Would you rather they use biodegradable — or Styrofoam containers, especially if the containers end up in the hands of these litterers?

The article further states:

  • The California Chamber of Commerce has labeled the measure as one of its “job killer bills” saying it threatens manufacturing jobs while increasing costs for restaurants that will have to spend more on alternative containers.

A job killer?  How about alternate manufacturing jobs focused on green, biodegradable packaging, or an altogether new packaging technology?

And with regard to increased costs by restaurants on alternative containers…..well, let us think outside the take-out box on this point.

If a restaurant starts a campaign to educate customers on the problems with litter and added costs of packaging, and introduces concepts on reducing packaging, bringing their own “take-out” food containers, then over time, wouldn’t their “take-out” packaging costs actually be reduced?

What did people do BEFORE throw away plastics and Styrofoam containers?  The restaurant probably had earth friendly options for take-out packaging, or customers brought their own containers to restaurants.

Already, Gayles Bakery & Rosticceria — a certified Monterey Bay Area Green Business, in business for over 30 years — advertises on the radio and on their website to bring your own food container for take-out orders. Their website at, lists their environmental policy as well as tips on their efforts to reduce food packaging.  To encourage this shift in how take-out food is packaged, they have weekly drawings for a $100 gift card when you bring your own bag, food containers or mugs for take-out.

If we distill the reasons for opposition and objections to pro-environment type legislation…it becomes clear the reason is of selfishness, and, well….being short-sighted and not thinking about the future (and other) inhabitants of this planet.  Otherwise why would you NOT want to support making changes for the good of the planet, and so our children and grandchildren will have a clean and healthy environment to live in?

We all have to make sacrifices for the greater good, and to prevent our environment from being loaded up with toxic plastic waste (plastic is so new to our system that there are no microbes in nature that can truly break it down — read the  recently published book “Plastic” A Toxic Love Story by Susan Freinkel).

And if that means more initial costs for biodegradable take out boxes, then so be it.  At least until we make a shift in our habits, and rethink the true cost of our throw-away society.

What do you think about this bill to ban Styrofoam containers?   Should restaurants impose a fee on take-out containers or give you a credit / discount or freebie if you bring your own containers?

4 thoughts on “Senator Lowenthal’s Bill to Ban Foam Containers in California

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