We talk a lot about “recycling” but what of the other “Rs”? Reduce? Reuse?
Well, score one for reduce, as the city of Santa Monica, CA voted unanimously the other night to ban ALL polystyrene food packaging in the city. While other cities in California have bans focused on styrofoam (expanded polystyrene), Santa Monica is the first to also target the clear, hard “clamshell” sandwich and salad containers often used at take-out delis. The ban is the result of many hours of work by staff in the City of Santa Monica and the tireless advocates at Heal the Bay. Kudos.
Why a ban polystyrene plastic containers?
The containers are one-use, with a useful lifespan of minutes or hours. But once tossed away, they persist in the environment indefinitely (no definite timeline for biodegredation of plastic has ever been established). The polystyrene coffee cup you use for ten minutes on your morning commute, will be with us–in one form or another–forever. Think on THAT, green girls.
Polystyrene plastics may not biodegrade, but they do break down–into smaller and smaller pieces. A study by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation found that small pieces of plastics outweigh plankton in the North Pacific Gyre six to one. That’s six times MORE plastic in the dead middle of the Pacific Ocean than plankton. These small pieces of plastic in the ocean, called pelagic plastic, are often mistaken as food by sea birds, marine mammals, and other marine creatures. They ingest the plastic, and, as their stomachs fill with the stuff, eventually starve and ultimately die. (See video here.)
Plastic in the ocean is a global problem that leads to the deaths of over 2 million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals a year. (Plastic pieces found in the degraded carcass of an Albatross, pictured above.)
For all these reasons, more and more communities around the US and the world are banning one-use polystyrene packaging.
A cursory web search found the following cities with some form of ban on polystyrene:
San Francisco, CA
Suffolk County, Long Island, NY
San Clemente, CA
No ban in your city? Why not start one? How about a self-ban on polystyrene? Bring your own cup to your local coffee shop and ask them for a fill up! Stash a tupperware in your bag for restuarant leftovers. Or eat in, rather than out. Write a letter to your city council, and tell them about polystyrene and why communities across the globe are banning them. Tell the guy at the sandwich shop–in a nice way–that it would be great to see some packaging alternatives. Or maybe sign up for this dive adventure in Thailand. (Who says going green can’t be fun?)
And the next time you are faced with a styrofoam coffee cup, remember that plastics are, you know, forever.