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Santa Monica Senator’s Bill Would Ban Many Plastic Food Containers  

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By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

April 17, 2017 -- A bill introduced in February by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) would prohibit businesses from serving prepared food in plastic containers that can’t be recycled locally.

Allen’s legislation, SB 705, would prohibit food providers from using containers made of expanded polystyrene (also known as plastic foam and incorrectly by the trademark name Styrofoam) as well as other plastic material beginning in 2020.

And in 2021 the prohibition would extend to all types of plastic containers that can't be recycled or composted locally.

A similar law has been on the books in Santa Monica for more than a decade.

Expanded Polystyrene containers
Expanded polystyrene containers (Photo courtesy of The Association of Plastic Recyclers)

SB 705 would "help to eliminate plastic waste that is clogging up and threatening the environmental health of our oceans and waterways,” Allen wrote in a recent Facebook post.

The legislation is in the early stages of working its way through the legislative process and has not met a major opposition campaign yet, but it would not be surprising if it did.

A similar measure that included then-Santa Monica Assemblywoman Julia Brownley among its co-authors was defeated in a 45-26 Assembly vote in 2012.

Among those likely to oppose Allen’s bill is GoFoam California, a trade group that led the opposition against the 2012 legislation and opposes all related bans proposed by local governments.

The group says on its website that alternative products to polystyrene “don’t insulate nearly as well, they cost more, and in many cases, they generate more waste, while increasing air and water emissions over their life cycles.”

But there is an urgency in some circles to ban polystyrene products that environmentalists say are harmful because of their prevalence and the difficulty to recycle them.

Santa Monica-based environmental watchdog Heal the Bay this past week applauded Culver City for its recent passage of a ban on expanded and solid polystyrene, which is used to make certain containers as well as drink lids, utensils and straws.

“Banning these specific plastics is a big win for our coastal environment, especially considering Culver City is situated within the watershed of Ballona Creek and its downstream wetland habitat,” Heal the Bay wrote on its website.

Heal the Bay calls polystyrene waste “ubiquitous” and among the most commonly found items during its many beach and watershed cleanups.

More than 500,000 items have been collected in the past 10 years despite various municipalities having bans in effect.

Santa Monica passed its prohibition in 2006, with the council facing significant opposition from various business interests who cited cost as an issue (“Council Bans Styrofoam, Plastic, though Impacts are Unclear,” June 15, 2006).

Santa Monica was not the first to impose the ban. Malibu had approved one a year earlier.

But Councilmember Kevin McKeown predicted at the time that after Santa Monica’s move, “the rest of Los Angeles will follow to the tremendous benefit of Santa Monica Bay.”

He was somewhat correct, with many coastal cities following Santa Monica’s lead in the years since.

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