With no indication that proposals to ban expanded polystyrene takeout packaging are letting up, the industry is aggressively challenging communities to examine the consequences of those proposals.
One example: In a letter to the Monterey Regional Waste Management District in California last month, the American Chemistry Council asked the district to answer 55 specific questions about a model ordinance of an EPS ban the district had sent to cities in the county.
``Our concerns [are] that many fundamental questions have not yet been answered [and] the process to push for a ban has been fatally flawed,'' ACC's Tim Shestek said in the letter. Shestek is ACC's director of state affairs and grass-roots efforts. ``The district has only focused on the end use of polystyrene food-service products. ... Why hasn't the district publicly addressed and studied the life-cycle analysis of alternative products?''
Mike Levy, director of ACC's Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, agreed.
``We will not let communities steer focus just toward end-of-life,'' Levy said by phone. ``The reality is that the end-of-life for polystyrene foam is no different than any other packaging. We have to get the focus of communities on the performance, why you use polystyrene products and what are the environmental benefits over the entire life cycle?
``Where is the proof that the [Monterey Waste] district weighed these complex environmental trade-offs?'' Levy asked. ``Not addressing legitimate questions and concerns about the impact of this ban is frankly irresponsible and certainly not prudent public policy. If the county is intent on a ban, it should only do so only after an exhaustive review that complies with state policy guidelines.''
He said PS products do less damage to the environment than competing materials.
``There are reasons why people choose this product in the first place. All the evidence shows bans not only constitute a waste of tax dollars, but drive recessionary pressures and hurt small businesses all with no proven benefit to the environment.''
The cause of the bans may be tied more to lifestyle and marine litter in California.
``To our critics, polystyrene foam is a fairly attractive target to assuage the guilt people have about the way they lead their life. Marine litter is fairly central to their overall concern,'' said James Lammers, Dart Container Corp.'s vice president of administration and general counsel. Dart is in Mason, Mich.
Twelve California cities and two counties in California have banned EPS food-service packaging since September 2005, including five this year. That total doesn't include bans that apply strictly to city or county facilities.
Pacific Grove enacted the most recent ban May 7, and it will take effect in June. That ban applies to trays, cups, bowls, plates and hinged or lidded containers. Ice chests, coolers and containers meant for reuse are exempt, as are utensils. There is a hardship exemption if the cost of alternative products is more than 15 percent higher, and businesses have 180 days to use their existing supplies.
In addition, Fremont, Monterey, Marina and Burbank are all considering PS bans, with Burbank scheduled for a vote June 12. There are also recommendations for bans in Long Beach and Newport Beach, along with Seattle.
``Over the past six months, there has been a huge wave of anti-polystyrene local ordinances,'' said John Burke, president of the Foodservice Packaging Institute in Falls Church, Va. ``It is like the flames have shot higher.
``People get into a mode of doing anything even if it is symbolic,'' Burke said. ``It is very frustrating because even when they tell us our information is very good, they often say they are going to ban it anyway because they think it is the right thing to do.
``When everyone starts jumping on the `Let's ban plastic bags' bandwagon, they say `Let's ban polystyrene as well.' The big problem is how can we stop the litter? With bans, you just end up swapping one form of litter for another.''
The industry is also concerned because Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and Seattle have all taken up bag ban proposals this year.
No measure has been introduced yet in Seattle. But Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council President Richard Conlin on April 2 proposed a ban on PS takeout packaging, meat trays and egg cartons used in grocery stores, beginning Jan. 1. The proposal also would ban single-use, disposable food containers that can't be composted or recycled, starting July 1, 2010. Council consideration is expected in June.
``It is this domino effect that concerns us,'' Shestek said. ``A significant municipality like Seattle suggesting that a ban is positive for the environment is more precedent-setting'' than bans by smaller communities.
He and Levy also are concerned that Seattle is pushing forward with the ban, despite a scientific review conducted for the Seattle Public Utilities by Herrera Environmental Consultants Inc. of Seattle that indicated a ban would have trade-offs less litter, but greater economic costs and environmental damage.
``It concerns us that they are bypassing the scientific review by their own consulting firm,'' Shestek said. ``We have got to get people to understand the environmental trade-offs with any form of packaging. There is no packaging in a vacuum.''
Compared with the status quo, the report said the impact on five of six environmental categories nonrenewable energy, greenhouse-gas emissions, ozone levels, acidification and waste generated would all increase significantly.
However, the report also said that ``the permanence of plastics dictates its use be minimized.''