Could California ban styrofoam cups?

By Laura Brown - 30 Aug 2011 16:12:0 GMT
Could California ban styrofoam cups?

Coffee cups, takeaway dishes or easy storage for leftovers; Styrofoam containers have become a visible part our take-out culture. But could it be coming to an end? Politicians California want to ban the containers because of the impact they have on the environment. If it passes it would become the first-state-wide law of its kind in the US.

Lawmakers in Sacramento, California, are considering a bill prohibiting restaurants, retail stores and other food outlets from serving or handing out food in expanded polysterene containers. Currently with the Assembly, if the bill is passed it would come into play in 2016. Proponents and environmentalists are in favour. The containers are non-biodegradable.

It is estimated styrofoam containers now account for more litter in California than cigarette butts. They make their way into rivers and lakes, harming wildlife and natural habitat, as well as tainting the appearance of coastlines and tourist traps.

The bill has been drafted by Senator Alan Lowenthal, a Democrat from Long Beach. While similar laws have been passed in individual cities and towns in the US there has not yet been one covering a whole state. Lowenthal says it is vital for tourism. "People come to this state because they love the beauty," he said. "If we are now engaged in a program to pollute the state, we're going to lose that."

Clean Water Action, a lobby group in Washington D.C that champions environmental issues sponsored the bill. They cite not only the impact of litter but also the chemicals used in the manufacturing process which poses public health threat. However the American Chemistry Council, who is opposing the bill, say the risk is very slight and is not backed by any scientific information.

The bill has also not been welcomed by business and industry within California. Retail and food outlets have been hit hard by the economic recession. With margins so tight, they argue, banning Styrofoam containers could end up doubling their outlay, as the green alternatives cost twice as much.

This could lead to job losses, leading the California Chambers of Commerce who dub it the "job-killer Bill". Two firms in California produce the containers, employing around a thousand people. Opponents also claim the bill fails to target those who drop litter, arguing they will still drop recyclable containers, as well as non-biodegradable ones.

The bill has passed the state Senate and is now with the Assembly.

Image Credit: styrofoam cup © design56