I see a lot of stories every week that contain half-truths and misconceptions about plastics, but I let most of them pass without comment. But something about a story last week from the Brookline, Mass., WickedLocal.com is just crying for comment.
If you just read the headline, “Expanded polystyrene ban in Brookline gets ‘no' from Selectmen,” you might think this is a story about a community where the plastics industry was victorious in the wave of product bans that seems to be sweeping across parts of the United States. But take a closer look.
First, you've got a resident proposing a ban on PS because it is “bad for the environment because it is not biodegradable and the federal government classified styrene, a chemical found in Styrofoam, as a possible carcinogen in 2011.”
So only products that are degradable are good for the environment? And can we get some data on human exposure to styrene from “Styrofoam” cups?
The resident apparently initially thought all PS products were foam, but then she “discovered that polystyrene can be found in a number of other items, and in a more rigid form. Some examples include certain lids to food containers or the lids to coffee cups.”
So her reaction? Let's ban those, too.
The Brookline Board of Selectmen decided against that proposal, but not because they were well-informed about the benefits of PS food-service products and packaging.
One said: “When I drink a cup of coffee out of a standard foam polystyrene cup, I taste the Styrofoam.” He continued: “I suspect that when you have a heated beverage, that there is something unhealthful about it … I liked our first version where we were banning the extended foam version of polystyrene.”
So Brookline is banning PS foam, but not solid PS products like lids and straws. Retailers and restaurants will have to adjust but that's no problem, according to the Selectmen — there are plenty of biodegradable alternatives to PS.
And those are automatically better products, right?
No need to put any real research into this issue — at least not in Brookline.
Wal-Mart takes sustainability index to China
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. took its sustainability agenda to China last month, with a meeting in Beijing with government officials, nongovernmental organizations, academics, suppliers and company associates.
The message: Global suppliers need to comply with the company's sustainability goals within five years, or risk losing business with the world's largest retailer. Wal-Mart said that as of today, its buyers have been trained on how to use the sustainability index across 100 categories, and have engaged more than 500 suppliers.
While plastics readers may associate sustainability primarily with material selection — things like recycled content and use of biobased materials — Wal-Mart takes a much bigger picture approach, including things like energy and water savings. So, if you thought sustainability was a fad, you might want to rethink that.