California State Senate Passes Bill Banning Use of Styrofoam Food Containers

Jun 8, 2011 3:45 PM ET

Be Green Packaging News Blog

Styrofoam containers have reached near iconic status as symbols of rampant pollution.  They take hundreds of years to biodegrade, contain suspected carcinogens, and are not accepted in the vast majority of recycling programs nationwide.  In response to these and other concerns, the California Senate has voted to approve a recent bill authored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) that would ban the use of styrofoam food packaging in the state.  The bill targets restaurants and food vendors who use styrofoam for takeout and beverage containers.

Styrofoam is the trade name for polystyrene, a petroleum-based plastic that is widely used in food and product packaging.  Due to its light weight, excellent insulation properties, and comparatively low cost to other forms of packaging, it has gained wide use across numerous industries.  However, with the recent shift in consumer consciousness towards a greater awareness of the environmental impacts of styrofoam, the material is beginning to encounter serious opposition by both citizens and politicians alike.  

According to the California Department of Transportation, styrofoam containers account for approximately 15% of litter found in storm drains.  The Southern California Coastal Water Quality Research Project found that polystyrene packaging is the second most common type of refuse found on state beaches.  California's proximity to the Pacific Ocean makes it a significant contributor to the Great Pacific Trash Gyre, of which styrofoam is a major component.  Recent autopsies on various marine animals living along the California coast found that many of them often mistake styrofoam packaging for food and that the consumption of these containers can and often does result in death.

"I introduced this bill not just to solve an environmental problem that plagues our state but also because it's a job booster for California," said Sen. Lowenthal.  He went on to state that many California companies are currently designing and manufacturing alternatives to styrofoam packaging from compostable plant-fibers, paper, and other recyclable materials.

Opponents of the bill claim that jobs related to styrofoam manufacturing and distribution will be greatly impacted if the legislation passes the Assembly in August of this year.  The bill (SB 568) is scheduled to go into effect on January 1st, 2014.

California citizens are encouraged to contact their state Assembly member to voice their opinions on the upcoming vote.  More information can be found on the California State Assembly website.

- Justin Faerman, June 8th, 2011