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Calif. Bill Would Ban Styrofoam Take-Out Containers

Audio

Aired 5/18/11

A proposed bill in the California legislature would ban food vendors or restaurants from using styrofoam food containers on or after 2014.

Angela Howe is with the Surfrider Foundation, one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

She said polystyrene foam food containers litter waterways, storm drains and harm marine life.

Howe said styrene can migrate from polystyrene containers into food and beverages when heated or in contact with fatty or acidic foods.

"Benzene and styrene are actually suspected carcinogens," said Howe. "So we actually have the California School Nutritional Association on board with this bill supporting it for those health reasons."

Howe said styrene residues are found in 100 percent of all samples of human fat tissue.

Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) known as Styrofoam, is lightweight and floats.

When littered, it's carried from streets and through storm drains out to the ocean.

Howe said Styrofoam is among the most common items collected at semi-monthly beach cleanups in California.

In the environment, the containers break down into smaller and smaller pieces and are easily mistaken for food by marine animals.

Howe said because the styrofoam is contaminated from food residue, recycling is virtually impossible and it takes decades or centuries to decompose in a landfill.

She said 47 jurisdictions in California, including Alameda, San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz County, have full or partial bans on take-out styrofoam containers.

Howe said food vendors in those cities and counties provide their take out in alternative packaging including, paper, plastic, and aluminum foil.

Opponents of the legislation include the American Chemistry Council, the California Chamber of Commerce and Dart Container Corporation.

A section of the Dart Container Corporation website called "Polystyrene Fact & Fiction" includes the following: "The results of extensive health studies of workers in styrene-related industries collectively show that exposure to styrene does not increase the risk of developing cancer, or any other health effect."

The bill, SB 568, passed a state senate committee and could be heard by the full senate next week.

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