Polystyrene Outlawed at San Jose Events

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The San Jose Mercury News reports that the city of San Jose, Calif. has banned the use of polystyrene foam food and beverage containers at large events on city property.

San Jose is the most recent to join a growing list of West Coast cities to outlaw the plastic #6 foam material. Similar legislation has passed in Seattle and more than 20 cities in California. San Francisco was the first major city to enact the ban in 2007.

Because polystyrene foam is so light (comprised of 97 percent air), it is easily carried by wind and water currents to all reaches of our planet, and its unsinkable nature makes it a main component of marine debris. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

Because polystyrene foam is comprised of 97 percent air, it is easily carried by wind and water currents, and its unsinkable nature makes it a main component of marine debris. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

Earlier this year, California initiated a statewide ban on polystyrene take-out containers. But officials pulled Assembly Bill 1358 before it was due for a vote, citing the country’s economic conditions. The bill would have made California the first state to officially outlaw the material.

But audits have shown that the polystyrene ban has not significantly reduced litter as was intended. A 2008 audit shows that, on an 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 recycling. Because it’s so lightweight, polystyrene takes up to 0.01 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream by weight, but its weight makes it harder to recycle. Therefore, many curbside programs do not accept the material.

However, polystyrene recycling rates continue to grow yearly. According to a report by the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers (AFPR), more than 65 million pounds of expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging were recycled in 2007, while the number grew to 69 million pounds in 2008.

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