With Santa Monica, Calabasas and Capitola, Calif., set to pass legislative bans on the use of expanded polystyrene take-out food-service containers in January, the plastics industry faces an uphill battle in stemming the tide of momentum that has built since San Francisco and Oakland adopted their bans earlier this year.
``The hearings at the city council level have become a moral, emotional issue and it is hard to dispel that with logical facts,'' said Mike Levy, director of the Polystyrene Packaging Council of the American Chemistry Council, which next month will become the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the plastics division of ACC. ``They have picked polystyrene foam as a culprit'' in the beach and marine litter issue.
``It is a lot easier for city councils to make industry do something than to invest in infrastructure and education'' for recycling, Levy said. ``Environmental groups are really active in promoting bans as doing the right thing and sending a message.''
In some cases the bans have become more far-reaching. In San Francisco and Oakland, there are additional requirements for restaurants and food-service operators to use biodegradable/compostable products or recyclable products if they are an affordable alternative.
The Calabasas measure, scheduled for its final reading Jan. 17, requires that food-service operators use biodegradable packaging for 50 percent of their food packaging.
Santa Monica's measure, passed at its first reading Dec. 7 and scheduled for its second reading Jan. 9, bans both EPS and clear PS containers. It also incorporates language banning all ``nonrecyclable plastic'' take-out containers, which the ordinance defines as ``any plastic that cannot be feasibly recycled by a municipal recycling program in the state of California.''
That has some in the plastics industry concerned that the bans will begin to creep into other plastics materials as well.
``The straight polystyrene ban is getting expanded because it is more politically palatable to target all nonrecyclables,'' said one plastics industry source. ``Santa Monica is the trend that scares me because it is so vague and can be applied to anything. I am concerned that in the future it can be made even more far-reaching. I think you will see cities refine that definition of recyclables step by step.''
The industry does not deny that its products are part of the litter problem.
``Our products are part of that mix of improper disposal,'' Levy said. ``We know that there are problems with littering. But obviously, we have to fight against what we think is a bad piece of legislation and we have to provide information to cities that can become part of the debate.''
Another industry source said trotting out arguments that cities are replacing one litter stream with another and that there aren't enough facilities to compost corn-based biodegradable plastics won't resonate with legislators.
``That will not succeed with cities,'' said the source. ``They want industry to come up with programs to solve the [litter] problem. This issue is becoming mainstream.''
The Capitola measure is scheduled to go into effect July 1, the Calabasas measure is scheduled to go into effect six months after its final passage and the Santa Monica measure one year after enactment.