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First bags, now foam; what's up next in CA

California communities spend nearly half a billion dollars annually in preventing trash from polluting the state's beaches, rivers and coastal waters, according to a new report from Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report surveyed 95 California communities ranging in size from just 700 residents to more than 4 million. The analysis found that, regardless of their size and distance from the ocean, these communities are collectively spending nearly $500 million dollars annually cleaning up litter and preventing it from entering waterways, the NRDC stated.

The report examined the cost of six activities related to reducing solid waste in waterways: river and beach clean-up; street sweeping; installation of stormwater capture devices; stormwater drain cleaning and maintenance; manual cleanup of litter; and public education. 

The biggest culprit: plastic packaging according to a blog by Leila Monroe, senior attorney in the oceans program at the NRDC.

"According to decades of shoreline surveys, cheap, disposable plastic packaging constitutes the largest and most harmful quantity of litter found in the environment," she wrote. "We discard far more plastic than we recycle or reuse. Much of it is littered or escapes the garbage or recycling bin and makes its way into our public spaces, rivers, lakes, beaches, and ultimately, the ocean."

While she recognized that plastics' durability, light weight and low cost make it a useful material for many long-term applications, she believes that for a single-use disposable item, "it becomes abundantly clear that in most cases, those costs outweigh the benefits."

Monroe believes that California needs a program to correctly assign the burden of this ever-growing quantity of plastic trash between local governments, taxpayers and plastic producers. This means stopping the problem at its source by reducing the quantity of waste produced, while expanding programs that are working, such as recycling and installation and maintenance of storm drain capture devices.

"We call on producers to innovate and reduce unnecessary packaging, increase reusable alternatives, and ensure that their products are fully recyclable and actually recycled at the end of their useful life," she said.

This report comes on the heels of news that the San Jose City Council members voted to restrict the use of polystyrene foam packaging for serving food. The goal of the ban is to keep the PS food containers out of landfills and waterways.

"The measure to ban foam food containers that was passed by the city this evening is disappointing," Javier Gonzalez, government affairs director for the California Restaurant Association, said in a statement. "This ban will directly impact our city's family-owned restaurants by forcing them to pay higher costs to run their business on an already thin profit margin."

Last September, I wrote about a blog article about polyethylene bag bans. Save the Plastic Bag Coalition attorney Stephen Joseph, who as you can imagine is pro-bags, had words of caution for producers of other plastic packaging.

He warned it was a mistake for the plastics industry to think that it's only about bags.

"It isn't. It's about the stigmatization of all forms of plastic. The entire plastics industry needs to wake up, work as a unit, and fight like hell to prevent the reputation of plastics from being tarnished by misinformation. The entire plastics industry should be supporting our work," he said at the time. 

Here we are a year later and it seems the focus is now on banning PS foam foodservice packaging.

So what's the solution? Is it an EPR model? Or is simply a concentrated effort on educating consumers about recycling? Either way, let's hope a year from now; there's been real progress instead of just talk.  

TAGS: Packaging
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