Deskside with David | Ban plastic bags and Styrofoam? It’s up to locals.

David Lewis
Photo: Russ Juskalian

Two state bills that Save The Bay was watching closely failed to make it out of the legislature this year, where jobs and the economy took top billing.

A state bill to ban plastic bags was proposed for the third time in the past five years. AB 298 (Assemblymember Brownley) would have banned plastic bags statewide at stores that sell food and would have required a minimum charge for paper bags. It’s the same bag policy that cities will implement throughout Alameda County starting January 1. But AB 298 was never able to gain the necessary support to be brought to a vote.

The latest bill to ban Styrofoam food ware in the name of litter prevention and health concerns was SB 568 (Senator Lowenthal). The bill’s coalition of supporters fought for two years to secure support, engaging with school districts, alternative food ware manufacturers, and restaurants all over the state. But the bill failed to pass after a last minute vote on the Assembly floor at the end of August.

During the vote on the Styrofoam bill, opposing lawmakers made a number of weak claims to support their position. For example: any time the words “recycling” and “Styrofoam” end up in the same sentence, beware: Styrofoam food ware is not a recyclable product. Recyclers cannot process it because it’s dirty. And none of the small amounts of this material that are processed are recycled back into food ware. Instead, they become rulers, picture frames and other products that can only end up in a landfill. Ask any Bay Area recycler, and they’ll tell you the same thing – don’t send us Styrofoam.

One false argument against banning Styrofoam that came up several times relates to jobs – because requiring alternatives to Styrofoam will clearly create jobs for the many and growing number of California manufacturers of those alternatives. “Plastics” may have seemed to have a great future back when Dustin Hoffman and The Graduate was on the big screen, but today the future lies elsewhere with reusable and compostable containers.

Perhaps the most troubling suggestion was that coastal communities concerned about Styrofoam litter should ban it, and leave the rest of the state alone. As any Bay Area school kid can tell you, 40% of the state of California drains through San Francisco Bay. And those waters are carrying trash that is littering our Bay and coastlines and slowly filling the Pacific Ocean with plastic.

It’s unfortunate to hear state legislators sound so disconnected from the real world. But at Save The Bay we are recommitting to the path forward – continue working with Bay Area cities and counties to pass strong, effective bans on plastic bags and Styrofoam to protect local waterways. Eventually the state is going to have to catch up.

– David Lewis, Executive Director

3 thoughts on “Deskside with David | Ban plastic bags and Styrofoam? It’s up to locals.

  1. I understand your desire to ban Styrofoam for food products. I own ReFoamIt, a company that recycles Styrofoam. We accept food and beverage Styrofoam items as long as they are rinsed. And as you said these items are not usually made back into take out containers. Instead, recycled Styrofoam can be made into picture frames, car brackets etc. When these break these items may be recycled with your plastics. These picture frames, rulers etc. will still be made so why not use recycled Styrofoam instead of using new product!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Barbara. As you mention, Styrofoam must be clean in order to be recycled. The problem is that most Styrofoam food ware is not rinsed enough to be recycled. We focus specifically on Styrofoam food ware because more often than not, this material is never actually recycled. Instead it ends up in landfills or worse, in our waterways flowing directly into the Bay.

  2. “It’s unfortunate to hear state legislators sound so disconnected from the real world.” And yet they keep getting elected… How can the majority of Californians want better environmental practices and yet those who represent us – don’t vote to represent their people?

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