ORLANDO, FLA. (April 9, 1:45 p.m. ET) — 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 foodservice 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 headquartered in Mason, Mich.
“We have a very big challenge,” said Martinez 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 the great preponderance of people who are interested in green products don't have a clear definition themselves.
“People say they want to do something sustainable, something green,” said Martinez. “But when you ask them what they mean, nine out of 10 don't know. And most definitions are so imprecise and different, that they are not helpful.”
In addition, often legislators and environmentalists 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 points out, however, that when they do read the material, it can make a difference. He pointed to one city where the legislators read the material and decided not to ban PS because the material Dart sent was read and it “recast the debate” for city officials.
But even that win had the unintended consequence of highlighting the uphill battle that manufacturers of PS takeout foodservice products face.
“After council decided not to ban polystyrene, one legislator said ‘If we're not going to ban polystyrene, what can we ban,'” underscoring, Martinez said, how some legislators are “just looking to ban something.”
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 brings the number of communities in California with bans on PS takeout packaging and foodservice ware to 51. Further up the West Coast, Portland Ore., and the cities of Seattle and Issaquah in the state of Washington also have bans on PS takeout packaging.