I attended the hearing last evening in Albany held by the County Executive Dan McCoy, who listened to statements from folks regarding the proposed ban on foamed polystyrene food packaging. There was a good mix of people from individual citizens to local union workers to manufacturers. It was interesting listening to the people who were in favor of the ban and their misguided arguments. It became clear that much of what the proponents of the ban were saying was pulled from urban legend emails and internet chatter concocted by those who would demonize what they don’t like. The following is a summary and subsequent debunking of their arguments.
- Foamed polystyrene is “clogging” our landfills. FALSE! The EPA stated that in 2011, as a nation we generated 250MM tons of trash. Of that trash, 12.7% is listed as plastic. Keep in mind that is all plastics from shampoo bottles & toys to durable goods such as furniture. They estimate that only 2.8% of that plastic is non-durable goods such as plates, bowls and cups. The EPA did not segregate solid plastic from foamed plastic which, is the material being targeted in this ban. Consider for a moment that a foam 12 ounce bowl weighs about 58% less than a solid plastic 12 ounce bowl and you can reasonably concluded that the actual amount of foamed food service items going into landfills is more around the 1.5% number. Now I do not have a number I can hang on the word “clogging”, but 1.5% of something is far from any reasonable definition.
- Foam polystyrene is dangerous to your health. FALSE! One lady who spoke actually stated that these items were poisonous and why would we want to use poisonous products. The sad part was, she was not being facetious and had been convinced that foamed food service items would do her serious harm. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. Foam food service items have been safely used for over 40 years. The FDA has approved foam food service items to be safe for food contact. In fact there are studies done by the Nevada Health Department that show the use of single use packaging is actually more safe that permanent ware due to lower microbial levels. Think about it. How many times have you gone out to eat and noticed your plate or silverware had little specs of food dried on it? This simply never happens with foam food packaging.
There was also a fair bit of chatter regarding the component styrene. This is an instance where people hear what they want to and disregard the rest. The fact is, styrene is a liquid whereas polystyrene is an inert solid. I’ve never seen a liquid version of a foam food container. Furthermore, styrene is present naturally in many foods we eat including beef, strawberries, wheat and cinnamon. In fact you’d be exposed to far more styrene by eating one cinnamon donut than drinking 30 cups of coffee from a foam cup. I have not heard of any bans on cinnamon donuts though. Why? Simple, the amount of exposure is so incredibly small, it is measured in parts per billion. The plain truth is foam food service products are totally safe. History, the FDA and the scientific facts support that claim whereas those who claim otherwise rely on hyperbole, urban legends and misinformation to confuse and misguide folks like that poor little lady who thought it was poisonous.
- Foam containers contribute to litter. Should this ban go through, Albany County would simply be trading one type of litter for another. The ban calls for replacements items to be compostable. Here again, the folks in the audience who brought up this point simply don’t know that even though an item may be designated as compostable, it simply will not go away like they think it will if littered. I know this because as a company we offer many compostable products and know that they will only compost when deposited in professionally run compost facilities that have control over heat and moisture exposure. One gentleman displayed a cup that had been littered and said if that were a paper cup or other compostable item, it would have gone away. That is simply not true. Consider this, it takes a leaf one full year to biodegrade back into the forest floor. How long do you think it would take a compostable cup or bowl, if littered to fully biodegrade? I’ll bet that gentleman thought it was maybe a month or two. I think not. More like a couple of years. Addressing the litter issue by banning a particular product in favor of a far more expensive (2 times more) item just places undo financial hardship on business owners who use those products. It does nothing about litter. A litterbug is going to litter that cup no matter what it is made of. It seems to me increasing fines and actually going after the litterbugs would do much more in controlling litter than banning a product. Catch someone and fine them $200 bucks for chucking a cup out their window will quickly change their minds on how to properly dispose of that cup. Litter is not something caused by food service single-use items. Litter is caused by unmanaged and overflowing trash receptacles, the general lack of properly placed trash receptacles and unscrupulous people who knowingly and illegally dump their refuse into the environment. Not that any litter is good, I thought it would be helpful to know that “fast food” packaging which is what we are talking about here, actually is a very small percentage of the total litter. Here is a graphic right from Keep America Beautiful that shows these containers are only 5.3% of the litter problem.
As you can see, I’ve linked in sources from reputable web sites and listed other references by name. Anything stated here can be looked up and verified…unlike most all of the wild claims made by proponents of the ban last night. I really think that 90% of the folks that spoke in favor of the ban are good people that are just not informed of the true facts. They have bought into the misinformation and outright falsehoods spread by the other 10% who simply have it out for “big business”. Hopefully the eight Genpakers along with the employees from other food packaging manufacturers that were present, helped to put faces behind company names. We are folks just like them who live and raise families right here in New York State. I doubt my little blog here will change the minds of those 10% who only hear what fits into their ideology, but for those other people, I truly hope that you will read and consider the facts before passing judgement.