California State Senator Ben Allen has proposed a statewide ban on polystyrene foam takeout containers in restaurants and stores. The proposed law would go into effect in 2020. This legislation may sound familiar: a proposed law banning the use of polystyrene containers failed in the state Assembly five years ago.
The concerns then and now are the same. Forcing stores and restaurants to switch from foam to more expensive alternatives will hurt small businesses and local economies. When a small business has to use more expensive products, they have to either increase prices for customers or eat the sunken costs.
California lawmakers should recognize that this proposed law could have drastic consequences for restaurants and small businesses. An effective alternative solution to banning foam containers already exists in California. In towns, cities, and counties across the state, polystyrene foam is recycled at recycling centers, drop-off locations, and even curbside.
Polystyrene foam—not to be confused with Styrofoam, a registered trademark of Dow Chemical Company—is used for many products, including food packaging, and is almost always labeled with the #6 chasing arrows symbol. Recycled foam can be made into picture frames, interior crown molding, garden nursery trays, rulers, ballpoint pens, and other everyday products.
Polystyrene foam is also a thermoplastic, meaning it can be recycled over and over again.
Rather than banning foam, a logical alternative would be to focus on recycling education in California and expanding collection efforts statewide.