The challenge of convincing legislators not to ban plastic products isn't limited to plastic bags, which have captured most of the attention of legislators the last three years, particularly on the West Coast.
Manufacturers of expanded polystyrene takeout packaging and food-service ware have battled the same issue and experienced some of the same frustrations, said Monroe, Ga.-based J. Michael Martinez, regional manager of government affairs for Dart Container Corp., which is based in Mason, Mich.
“We have a very big challenge,” Martinez said in a presentation at the Business of Plastics conference at NPE2012.
“We are dealing with legislators, school officials, consumers, the general public and students … and how do you effectively communicate a great deal of technical information to people who do not have the technology background to be able to dive down that deep into the topic?”
He said filling in the gaps can be challenging at times, because there are no set definitions of either what's green or what's sustainable, and because most people who are interested in green products don't have a clear definition themselves.
In addition, legislators and environmentalists often are “looking for an easy answer,” he said. “Legislators ask, ‘Do we have X percent of recycled resin or bio-content?' only because it is nice and round and sounds large enough to make a difference.”
In other cases, Martinez said, it is “difficult” to have a discussion with legislators “because state legislators and city officials have already decided what to do” by the time a hearing is held. “Often, reading the materials we sent them is immaterial to the decision,” he said.
He points out, however, that when legislators do read the material, it can make a difference. In one city, officials read information Dart sent, and it “recast the debate.” As a result, the city decided not to ban PS.
But even that win had the unintended consequence of highlighting the uphill battle that manufacturers of PS takeout food-service products face.
The most recent community to ban polystyrene takeout containers is Hermosa Beach, Calif., which approved a ban March 28 on PS takeout packaging that will go into effect at the end of September.
That ban brings the number of communities in California with bans on PS takeout packaging and food-service ware to 51.