Environmental Groups on Styrofoam Containers: Ban or Bust

A number of California bills (SB 568; SB 705; SB 1335) have been introduced over the years targeting non-recyclable polystyrene single-use containers, commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam. Proponents of these bills consistently argue non-recyclable, single-use Styrofoam containers pollute the environment and fill California landfills. It is surprising then, a bill introduced this year specifically addressing those concerns was killed by these very same proponents.

Assembly Member Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley) was forced to pull his AB 2921 last week after fierce opposition from environmental organizations. AB 2921 would have created the Expanded Polystyrene Food Service Packaging Recovery and Recycling Act that sought to impose additional fees on manufacturers to fund public programs increasing community access to recycling centers, promoting efforts to recycle and reduce or abate litter into our landfills and natural environment.

The bill was consistent with California law mandating a 75 percent statewide waste diversion goal by 2020 and consistent with the rationale articulated in earlier bills supported by these same environmental organizations. Expanded polystyrene single use containers are 100 percent recyclable and can be compacted and transformed into items like clothes hangers, park benches, flower pots, toys, rulers, stapler bodies, seedling containers, picture frames, architectural molding and back into containers. Alternatives such as paper foodservice disposables, on the other hand, are rarely recycled.

This begs the question, why would these organizations now oppose a bill providing more funding for recycling and the diversion of Expanded Polystyrene entirely paid for by manufacturers? As the tale of AB 2921 makes clear, these organizations are no longer drawing any distinction between non-recyclable and recyclable Styrofoam. The battle line over polystyrene single-use containers has been redrawn and environmental groups are now positioning as a ban or bust on this issue.

Adam J. Regele, Policy Advocate