California Looks to Ban Styrofoam Products

California may have just missed a great opportunity to lead the nation and show the world that a government can commit to the protection of the environment while still working toward maintaining an economy worth bragging about. Senate Bill 568 (SB-568), a proposed legislation that recently failed to pass in the State Assembly, would have been an oath to California’s environment that. If it had passed, SB-568 would have put a ban on the use of expanded polystyrene foam (styrofoam) for food ware within the state. Talk about a missed opportunity.

A clean environment, what an idea. While the Senate bill was not a proposed miracle, it certainly would have been a start. Let’s face it, styrofoam is just about everywhere, and not just because it is cheap and convenient (although it most certainly is). Piled high or buried deep, this cheap and harmful material is imbedded just about everywhere—along highways and streams, coastlines, and mountain areas. Certainly it has proven that what is most convenient is oftentimes the most destructive, and not just because it’s everywhere but because convenient habits are also the hardest to break.

Cosponsored by both Clean Water Action and the Surfrider Foundation, SB-568 “would prohibit the distribution and use of eps [expanded polystyrene] foam containers by food vendors and prepared food. It includes definitions for customers, food vendors, polystyrene food containers, and prepared food.” With plenty of backing, SB-568 passed the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, the Assembly on Natural Resources, and the Assembly Committee on Appropriations. But on the last day of the session the Assembly Floor failed to pass the legislation.

And that is where it stands as of now: an undeniable setback. For those opposed to the bill, the issue seems to come from a fear that by getting rid of the product, those whose livelihoods depend on its production will be out of a job. And while there is no doubt that this should be a concern, it does not have to be. If and when styrofoam is banned, there is also going to have to be an alternative product to take its place. This will still need to be marketed and still need to be sold. Switching from one to another may not be easy but important things are often not.

Even with the breaks put on the bill, many California communities have taken matters into their own hands. More than 60 cities and counties have already established their own bans on the material; and with more and more businesses and companies committing to a styrofoam-free agenda, the number is expected to increase.

Famed French explorer and environmentalist Jean-Michel Cousteau explains that a cleaner future is one that does not (and cannot) involve styrofoam products:

 “…to successfully and unconditionally prevent the degradation of our environment, we as a people, as a society, must change our ways. Specifically, we must recognize the harm caused by discarding styrofoam, and stop it…if styrofoam is banned—if styrofoam is not available to litter and end up in our landfills—we are all better off…In other words, in our efforts to preserve and protect our planet, let’s use all realistic and obvious capabilities. Banning styrofoam is one of those capabilities.”

In the end, California is better off without expanded polystyrene foam. With government backing, the transition away from this harmful material to a more environmentally-friendly alternative will be much smoother. And as big a state as California is, the change could be enough to spark positive change on the larger scale. California may have just passed on a great opportunity, but with Governor Jerry Brown’s backing it has another chance at approval. To urge California Governor Jerry Brown to ban expanded polystyrene foam containers in California, please sign the petition here.


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