Proposed California EPS ban could harm economy - opponents

06 June 2011 22:33  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Proposed legislation that would ban California food vendors from serving food in polystyrene foam containers starting in 2014 could harm the state's economy and have unintended environmental consequences, opponents said Monday.

California State Senate Bill 568, which was approved by the senate in a 21-15 vote on 2 June, would give school districts until July 2015 to comply with the requirements.

It also would allow vendors within cities or counties with active polystyrene recycling programmes to continue to use expandable polystyrene (EPS) containers if at least 60% of the containers would be recycled.

But the exemptions do not do enough to protect local businesses and the state's economy, said Tim Shestek, senior director of state affairs for the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

"This was one vote and one stage in the process," Shestek said in a prepared statement. "We will work with the [California State] Assembly to address the adverse impacts on local businesses and the broader consequences of this legislation on jobs and the California economy."

Supporters of the legislation, including Senator Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, the bill's author, have said EPS poses significant problems in the state's waterways, storm drains and marine environments because it breaks down into small pieces, is lightweight and easily dispersible.

"Municipalities are spending millions of dollars a year controlling litter, but foam products escape most litter-control methods," said Miriam Gordon, California director of Clean Water Action, a national environmental advocacy organization that is pushing for the legislation.

"They are lightweight, they get blown around by the wind and they break apart into small pieces that go right through trash capture devices," Gordon said.

Already, 50 jurisdictions in California have banned EPS food packaging, she said, adding that her organisation's research has found widespread support for such a ban.

However, opponents of the legislation argue that banning EPS food containers would increase environmental impacts by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, energy use and waste associated with the use of alternative products.

Polystyrene cups weigh two to five times less than comparable packaging, and require 50% less energy to produce than a similar plastic-coated paperboard cup with a corrugated cup sleeve, according to a letter written by a coalition of opponents to members of the Senate Environmental Quality Committee, which first reviewed the bill.

The effects of such a ban on the California economy could also be significant, opponents said.

Citing a study by Keybridge Research on the economic impact of a ban on EPS containers in California, the letter suggested reduced demand for EPS could result in plant closures and a loss of $222m (€151m) in earnings and 4,800 jobs.

Also, such a ban could effectively put an end to efforts by the EPS industry to increase recycling opportunities throughout the state and nation, said Michael Westerfield, corporate director of the recycling program for DART, a leading manufacturer of polystyrene foam cups.

"In 2007, there weren't any cities offering curbside recycling of foam, and now there are more than 40 cities that are doing it," Westerfield said. "That is because our industry has stepped up."

The requirement to recycle at least 60% of material is particularly difficult, Westerfield said, adding that it takes time to develop recycling programs.

Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it will be considered by the California State Assembly this month.

($1 = €0.68)

By: Michelle Klump
+1 713 525 2653

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