The ban extends to containers, clam shells, bowls, plates, cartons and cups. However, it does not affect straws, utensils or hot up lids. In January, Palo Alto stopped accepting polystyrene packing peanuts and polystyrene blocks used in consumer goods packaging.
But while the ban will reduce Palo Alto’s waste, that’s not the initial intention of the prohibition. The current economic recession carried a lot of weight for lawmakers proposing the ban.
“Part of the rationale for a ban was the economy and the recycling markets in general,” says Mike Levy, director of the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the American Chemistry Council. “It is a difficult decision for a city to add recycling when the market is down.”
However, Levy adds that fewer than 5 percent of the cities in California have enforced this ban, and as the economy picks up, so will the market for recycling materials. Therefore, Levy hopes that other cities will look at the sustainability aspect of the situation and its potential for recycling, not just from an economic standpoint.
Litter audits have shown that the polystyrene ban has not significantly reduced the littler. The 2008 audit shows that on and item-by-item basis, the 36 percent reduction in polystyrene litter was offset by an equal increase in coated paperboard.
Nevertheless, the ban is seen as a step forward considering the complexity of polystyrene (Styrofoam) recycling. Because it’s so lightweight, polystyrene takes up to 0.01 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight, but as you may have guessed, its volume is a greater problem than its weight. It takes up space in landfills and doesn’t biodegrade.