Categorized | Animals & Wildlife

Because Plastic is Forever!

Posted on 07 December 2006

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.)

albatross with plastic

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
Portland, OR
Oakland, CA
Suffolk County, Long Island, NY
Malibu, CA
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.

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This post was written by:

Miwa - who has written 9 posts on Green Girls Global Blog.

I am a writer, surfer, and enviromental policy analyst working in Southern California. I live with two dogs who think I'm their pet. They spend most of the day eating my shoes.

9 Comments For This Post

  1. Lynn says:

    I was just doing my grocery shopping a few days ago and was taken aback by the sight of plastic containers being purchased by the people in front of me. They must be getting ready for their holiday parties, but it still boggles the mind. Of course, they probably don’t want to have to use their dishes–they’ll have quite a time washing them, since we presently have water shortages in our area. Pfft.

  2. Miwa says:

    Oh, I know. Pfft is right!

    A year ago, I had to do SOMEthing for a large fundraiser I was organizing, so I used these.

    They are made from sugarcane processing waste, and I have to say–if you must go disposable–they worked out pretty well!

  3. Steph says:

    doh! my company serves salads to go in those evil clamshell plastic containers! they recently completely eliminated styrofoam, but i guess the effort to go green continues . . . will write a letter. thanks for the post, miwa! :)

  4. Bossytoe says:

    RAR to polystyrene plastic for being so deceptively bad and a big ROCK IT to Miwa for the informative post!

  5. Miwa says:

    Steph: Hadn’t thought about polystyrene in the workplace, but that’s a great place to start!

    How about writing a letter to your office building management about eliminating polystyrene from the cafeteria waste stream?

    Let’s take even a modest office building–my office is a government building with nine floors, and probably houses about 1800 workers. I’d say on average at least 30% of those purchase a cup of coffee every day. That’s 540 cups of coffee every day. If we were to eliminate polystyrene–just the coffee cups–that would be 135,000 foam coffee cups eliminated from the waste stream each year!
    (Assuming a 250 day work year.)

    And let’s say, just a few of us did this, and did it successfully. The way it multiplies out is pretty impressive!


  6. Ashley says:

    Thank you for all the ideas!

  7. byeh says:

    video is eye-opening!!

    great post! !


  8. Charles Lake says:

    If you would like to learn how you could do more to help ban ALL polystyrene food packaging visit this site

  9. Andy Dabydeen says:

    Great post. It’s hard not to get depressed about all of this.

2 Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Sin título - Green Girls Global Blog says:

    [...] While they haven’t max-ed out their green-factor–the product itself is (eek!) plastic–we give them lots of green girls points for trying. And everything has to start somewhere. Jimi uses 100% post-industrial waste plastic, the product is recyclable, and made with fair-wage, U.S.-based labor. Also, as a member of the 1% for the environment alliance, Jimi donates 1% of all sales to environmental initiatives. So +50 points to Jimi for being a company that green girls can feel good about when shopping. [...]

  2. on being radical. at Green Girls Global Blog says:

    [...] In this way, over the course of years, this individual citizen continued the drumbeat about our increasingly plastic ocean. Every piece of plastic we produce–the plastic cup we use for one drink, the plastic tampon [...]

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