Dart Container Corp.'s James Lammers has been a highly visible presence in fighting proposed bans on polystyrene food-service packaging.
Lammers is vice president of administration and general counsel for Mason, Mich.-based Dart, a leader in disposable food-service packaging and the largest global producer of expanded PS foam cups. The privately owned company, with an estimated $1.4 billion in sales, believes U.S. communities are uneducated about the total environmental impact of various packaging and is concerned that the ban movement will spread to other types of packaging as well.
Since 1990, Dart has operated PS recycling centers at its manufacturing sites in Mason; Plant City, Fla.; Leola, Pa.; and Campbellford, Ontario. The company recycles more than 12 million pounds of PS a year. It also has more than 40 drop-off locations in 30 counties in Michigan, where it works with hundreds of public schools, five state universities and the state of Michigan to recycle all types of foam PS.
Lammers is past president of the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va. He is currently on PFPG's board and on the steering committee of the Styrene Information and Research Center.
He is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Michigan Law School.
Q: How is the legislative climate different than one year ago when it comes to bans on expanded PS takeout packaging?
Lammers: Our industry has experienced an increase in legislative initiatives, primarily at the local level, and primarily in the state of California.
We are very concerned by this increase in legislative activity [because] it has led, we believe, to some market deselection of foam.
We are redoubling our efforts to educate legislators, our customers, opinion leaders and the general public about how well foam food-service products compare to alternatives in terms of their life-cycle environmental performance, cost and function.
Q: What do you find troubling about the way communities approach the issue?
Lammers: There is a lot of contempt prior to their research, and they are arriving at their conclusions even before looking into what the environmental effects are. They look at plastics packaging as a glass half-empty and paper and emerging biopolymers as a glass half-full and presume them to be environmentally better. They give no benefit of the doubt to polystyrene foam and every benefit of the doubt to alternative materials.
Q: In what ways should communities considering bans look at the issue differently?
Lammers: They can and should drill down on polystyrene foam to the nth degree. But we want them to ask the same questions of these other materials that are going to replace the products they plan to ban. They should ask the paper cup manufacturers and the compostable manufacturers the same kind of questions so they have a consistency of analysis and thinking. We feel comfortable that we would stack up well.
Q: Can you get a community to reverse its action by analyzing the effect of a ban after it has been in place for a year or more?
Lammers: There is a singular disinterest on the part of communities in trying to measure the impact of a measure and whether the reasons a bill was enacted are being achieved. It seems to me that if there was a great concern [about reducing marine litter], the intellectually honest course would be to measure and determine whether the decision you made was achieving that objective. But they are not doing that. I find that telling.
Q: How far has the talk of bans spread?
Lammers: My sense is that it has not spread very far at all outside the West Coast. Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York City have had a different level of activity. But it is a vast order of magnitude lower than the West Coast.
Q: What can you do to change the legislative climate?
Lammers: The old adage is that the perception is the reality. One of our challenges as an industry is to better educate the general public. If we can do that, we will have a better overall climate at the legislative level.
Q: What are some of the difficulties in educating people about the values of PS food-service packaging compared with other materials?
Lammers: As a general rule, our industry doesn't have a lot of experience in advertising its products to the general public, let alone engaging them on environmental issues. So it is a difficult challenge. We can emboss messages on the products themselves or use flyers and posters to speak to some of these issues and what the facts are. We also really need to educate [retailers] about these issues and how they would impacted.
Q: How do you market in cities where bans have been enacted?
Lammers: We have other solid polystyrene products, PET products and polypropylene products that can still be used. What is most difficult is that we don't have a nonfoam cup for hot drinks.
Q: Will the movement to ban PS spread to other forms of plastics packaging.
Lammers: This is just the beginning of the attack on disposable packaging. It is a mistake if people believe that once the activists get polystyrene foam out that that is the end of the issue for disposable packaging products.