Nearly ten years after Santa Monica banned polystyrene takeout containers – also known as Styrofoam – the rest of California may be catching up.
A bill from Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) would ban polystyrene foam containers throughout the entire state starting Jan. 2020. SB 705 is scheduled for its next hearing Thursday with the Senate Appropriations Committee. Polystyrene breaks down into lightweight, buoyant particles that flow easily into the ocean, contaminating the water and clogging the digestive systems of fish and birds, according to Heal the Bay.
“Ultimately, it’s bad for our environment, bad for public health and it ends up costing cities and counties millions of dollars in cleanup costs,” Allen said at a press conference Monday with Los Angeles City Councilmembers Paul Koretz and Bob Blumenfield.
“White polystyrene foam is everywhere you look and it never goes away,” Koretz said, noting that Los Angeles banned the containers in 2008. “I frankly can’t believe we’re still talking about it in 2017.”
Santa Monica banned the material from all city facilities and events in 2007 and from private food service providers in 2008. Business owners get a warning on their first violation and escalating fines up to $250 after that. Under the proposed state ban, fines would skyrocket to $1,000 per day for the first violation and up to $5,000 for repeat offenders.
A similar bill, AB 568, failed on the Assembly Floor in 2011. The new bill exempts K-12 schools from the ban. Most large school districts like LAUSD have already discontinued use of the material.
The industry group GoFoam California opposes the ban and instead supports expanding polystyrene recycling centers. Polystyrene can be recycled in Los Angeles blue bins but not in Santa Monica and can be made into picture frames, crown molding, ballpoint pens and other products.
“Forcing stores and restaurants to switch from foam to more expensive alternatives will hurt small businesses and local economies,” the organization wrote on their website in response to Allen’s bill. “When a small business has to use more expensive products, they have to either increase prices for customers or eat the sunken costs.”
But despite the presence of 18 polystyrene recycling plants, the education and outreach manager for Heal the Bay, Nancy Shrodes, who says food containers are rarely clean enough to be recycled. If not in pristine condition, recyclers typically toss the containers.
Every year, the cost of cleaning up the State’s beaches exceeds $1 billion, according to the Ocean Protection Council. Land-based litter makes up nearly 80% of marine debris and 90 percent of it is plastic, according to a report from the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The bill will likely be enforced at the local level and the shift from polystyrene to recyclable plastic containers won’t be easy for the entire state. The Senate Committee on Environmental Quality analyzed Allen’s bill and questioned whether every city and county in California will have the infrastructure to cost effectively recycle or compost food-soiled plastic containers by 2021. The Committee suggested adding circumstances where a locality may qualify for more time to comply with the ordinance.