California’s state Senate recently voted to phase out the use of styrofoam take-out containers by 2014, marking a crucial hurdle for a bill that would require food outlets to find alternative packaging materials that do not last several thousand years after a single use. Polystyrene is one of the most stable products ever produced — and ironically it has one of the shortest life cycles of any product. Add in its extremely light weight and ubiquitous use, and California has found itself with a major pollution problem. The bill is in the process of going through California’s congress, and if passed it will help eliminate one of the most persistent water pollution problems in the state
It’s hard to think of a more love-hate relationship than the one between society and the common styrofoam container. The product works great at keeping warm things warm, cool things cool, and it is extraordinary cheap. It’s ironic however that a product used to keep something as short-lived as a milkshake will last many thousands of years in the environment. Studies show that the material accounts for up to 15% of storm drain litter, and it’s the second most prevalent type of beach debris.
Due to its light weight the material breaks down into beads and can be carried long distances on winds and ocean currents, wreaking havoc on wildlife. The ban falls on the heels of the plastic bag ban introduced last year — and with over 50 municipalities and districts already outlawing Styrofoam, it was only a matter of time before the State followed suit. The good news is that there are many positive alternatives available now, and a huge spike in demand will certainly bring in more alternative products at less cost — many which will be produced in the golden state. The ban (SB 568), passed with a bipartisan vote and will reach the full house by late August.
Lead photograph © waferboard