As single-use plastics bans proliferate, get ready to see more paper litter

Plastic and paper litter

On Jan. 8, 2019, the Albuquerque City Council proposed banning plastic retail bags, straws and single-use take-out food containers. On April 15, it passed an amended version of that proposed “Clean & Green” retail ordinance. Forty speakers attended the hearings on this topic and supporters outnumbered opponents of the ban three to one, said an article in the Albuquerque Journal by Jessica Dyer.

Plastic straws have restricted distribution (patrons must ask for them) to help people who need straws due to limited ability. So far, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam take-out containers have escaped the ban. Dry-cleaning bags and bags for taking food from restaurants also passed muster. The ordinance goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

CNN reported on May 1 that Maine has become the first state to ban EPS foam take-out containers as well as plastic beverage stirrers. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021. Those who violate the law could face a fine of up to $100, News Center Maine reported.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM), in a statement to CNN, noted that “plastic foam food containers are among the top 10 most commonly littered items in the U.S.,” with “more than 256 million pieces of disposable foam cups, plates, bowls, platters and trays” used every year in Maine.

Maryland’s legislature also has approved bills to ban EPS, but CNN’s reporting noted that “it’s unclear whether Republican Gov. Larry Hogan will sign the legislation. Democratic Delegate Brooke Lierman, the primary sponsor of the Maryland House bill, said banning foam products was the first step to curbing people’s reliance on single-use plastics.

Obviously, as foam cups, plates and other EPS products are banned, there will have to be substitutes. The article doesn’t specifically mention what materials restaurants will use to replace their EPS items. Rigid containers, such as those made from polypropylene, are one option, but I’m guessing they’ll go for the "eco-friendly" paper cups, plates and containers that they claim are biodegradable, if left in the open air/water environment, or compostable, if a commercial composting facility will accept these paperboard items (some do; many do not).

Many of these cities and states that are banning plastic food containers, cups and other single-use items just might find that, while they have solved the problem of plastic, they haven’t solved the problem of people, who continue to litter their environment. It could be that EPS litter will be replaced with paper litter; after all, no matter what the material, it gets into the environment through the carelessness of people!

The RPC Group (Rushden, UK) just sent me a news item about a series of short videos the company has put together that aim to give a “succinct and balanced response to some of the frequently asked questions on this issue.” Topics covered in the 60-second videos are the call to ban plastics altogether, an explanation of the plastics recycling process, the problems of ocean litter, the reasons behind the use of plastic in food packaging and an understanding of the role of biodegradable plastics. RPC Group is one of Europe’s largest suppliers of plastic packaging.

“We want to provide viewers with short and reasoned explanations of plastics’ role in packaging, including the benefits it brings and how to tackle some of the problems associated with its disposal,” explained RPC Group’s Sustainability Manager Katherine Fleet. “We hope customers, consumers and all interested parties will find these useful aids in establishing a clearer picture of the ways in which we can continue to enjoy the many benefits of plastics while minimizing their impact on the environment.”

The primary way to minimize plastics’ impact on the environment is to stop people from throwing trash into the environment. After paperboard containers, paper drink cups, and paper bags become the “eco-friendly” replacement for plastics, I’m sure we’ll see our waterways and roadsides littered with paper, along with glass bottles and aluminum cans.

I’ll say it again: Plastic in the environment is a people problem, not a plastics problem!

Image courtesy Antonioguillem/Adobe Stock.

PT Newsletter Graphic with Digital News Final

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