Legislation that would have made California the first state to ban the use of polystyrene foam food containers in restaurants was shelved last week, but lawmakers say they will revisit the bill in early 2012.
Senate Bill 568, which would have required foodservice operators to phase out their use of polystyrene containers by January 2016, passed the state Senate and two committees of the Assembly. It was scheduled to come before the full Assembly for a vote last week, but bill authors decided to hold off because it just missed the number of votes needed for passage.
If re-introduced in January, as author Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D) plans, the bill can be picked up where it is before the full assembly, said John Casey, the senator’s chief of staff.
“We’re close,” Casey said. “We just need a little more time to get a few more folks behind it.”
The ban’s supporters contend that polystyrene is a leading cause of beach debris and accounts for about 15 percent of storm drain litter. Researchers say the material often ends up in the ocean, where it breaks down and can harm marine life.
Across California, 51 jurisdictions have already enacted bans on foam food containers, according to the nonprofit environmental group Clean Water Action, which supported the state-level ban.
The California Restaurant Association opposed the state bill, saying a ban would not reduce the amount of litter.
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While many restaurants are moving away from the use of polystyrene containers, alternative products — which are typically more expensive — often don’t function as well in maintaining safe food temperatures, the association argued.
CRA president and chief executive Jot Condie said support for the bill lost momentum as the state grappled with ongoing high unemployment.
“I think policy-makers get it,” Condie said. “There was heightened awareness about the impact on jobs.”
The National Federation of Independent Business in California estimated that California would lose 8,000 manufacturing and related jobs if the legislation was adopted, and it would further squeeze the margins of restaurants and other small businesses.
Miriam Gordon, director of Clean Water Action in California, however, cited a report by the California Integrated Waste Management Board on polystyrene that said only about 1,000 jobs in California involve making foam products, with only about 40 percent of those related to food containers.
“The industry scared legislators with exceptionally inflated statistics about job loss,” Gordon said in a statement. “No one knows that these jobs will be eliminated since these companies can still sell out of state or convert their facilities to make better products.”
The bill’s supporters say it would actually create new jobs by attracting manufacturers of more sustainable packaging to California.
“Are we going to let the manufacturing of alternatives continue to move to China,” Gordon said, “or are we going to attract more manufacturers of alternatives to California by making this state the nexus of demand for sustainable packaging?”