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State Council Proposes Ban on Polystyrene Food Containers

The California Ocean Protection Council approved plans Thursday to reduce the trash that reaches beaches and other marine areas. One approved option is a statewide ban on polystyrene take-out food con

State Council Proposes Ban on Polystyrene Food Containers

The California Ocean Protection Council approved plans Thursday to reduce the trash that reaches beaches and other marine areas. One approved option is a statewide ban on polystyrene take-out food containers. While the ban is intended to reduce pollution, it could also cost thousands of jobs. KPBS Environmental Reporter Ed Joyce has details.

Officials say plastic makes up about 60-to-80% of all ocean litter and nearly all of the floating debris.

Most of the plastic and other trash washes to the ocean in runoff from the land.

More than 60 people testified at an Ocean Protection Council hearing in San Pedro.

Eben Schwartz works on the council's marine debris committee.

He presented the case for taking action now.  

Schwartz: The ingestion, entrapment and entanglement of hundreds of thousands of animals in plastic debris some of which are threatened or endangered under California or federal law. The millions of dollars spent each year by local and state agencies on litter collection and the potential threat debris poses to California's $46 billion ocean dependent economy.

The council looked at three ways to end those threats.

Doug George, who helped prepare the recommendations, says a "take-back" program would require manufacturers to take back used packaging and recycle or dispose of it properly.

He says another is a statewide fee on single-use plastic grocery bags and a ban on polystyrene take-out food containers.
 
George: The goal behind this proposed fee and ban is to encourage a shift toward reusable bags and containers that are less damaging to the marine environment.

He says the attractive elements of polystyrene - lightweight and durability - are the elements causing ocean pollution. Polystyrene floats and takes hundreds of years to decompose.

But those plastic products also provide thousands of jobs in California.

Employees of Pactiv, a company that makes polystyrene take-out containers at four California plants, told the council their jobs are at stake.

Many employees traveled from the Bakersfield plant to make their case against the proposed ban.

A man who only identified himself as Juan works as a human resources manager at the company's Bakersfield plant.

Juan: These are good paying jobs with benefits like health insurance, a 401k pensions and life insurance. Not an easy job to find in Southern California. My question to you and everyone here is, is the livelihoods worth of these employees you know worth banning one product that will not necessarily improve our litter problem. Why not concentrate instead on education, recycling or collecting fees on these products to fund cleanup efforts and invest in recycling. Thank you.

Dart Container employee Damon Arrowood echoed those sentiments.

He says a ban could cost him and 700 fellow workers their jobs at Dart's Corona plant.

Arrowood:
We need to focus more on recycling and I'd like to keep my job.

Dart has recycling facilities for polystyrene at its plants.

Steve Aceti with the California Coastal Coalition also urged the council to include more recycling.

Aceti:
Expand mandatory recycling to plastics one-through-seven and polystyrene like the city of L.A. has done.

But Coastal Commission staffer Doug George says bans are more effective and can create new "green" businesses and jobs.

He pointed to a 2002 plastic bag ban in Bangladesh.

George
: Manufacturers of those plastic bags shifted to jute fiber bags. Which consequently boosted demand for the fiber from local farmers.

He says the same could happen in California.
 
The third proposal would impose user fees on some common packaging.

The Ocean Protection Council voted to adopt the three proposals, including the polystyrene ban.

The action is intended to guide future legislation and state policies to reduce marine litter.

But legislation to control marine debris has failed in the last two legislative sessions.

And Cal Coastal Coalition's Aceti says he'd be surprised if Governor Schwarzenegger would sign legislation that would cost the state jobs at a time when the economy is suffering.

Ed Joyce, KPBS News.