Styrofoam: To Ban or Not To Ban?

Leftovers | Photo: waitscm/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If State Senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach has his way, one of the most common elements of dining out at a restaurant will be a thing of the past.

No, it's not having to wait in line because the restaurant doesn't take reservations, or charging a corking fee worth more than the price of the wine, or having those bathroom attendants on-hand to guilt-trip you into tipping them a dollar just because they offered up a towel after you washed your hands. (All of which should be banned.) Instead, it's the item that you're actually taking home with you from the restaurant that might be a goner: Your take-out container.

Lowenthal currently has his SB 568, a statewide ban on styrofoam, middling through the state legislature, getting ready to be voted on this week. If passed, the state would become the first to tackle the controversial environmental issue. And if past performance is any indicator, there's actually a good chance it may: 65 cities throughout Cali have already banned the material on their own, and the L.A. Unified School District recently announced they're discontinuing styrofoam trays, so smaller bits of legislation and rules-making are definitely trending in that direction.

Story continues below

So: Yeah! No more styrofoam! Our environment will be saved! No longer will we have to wait hundreds and hundreds of years for the material to biodegrade! Animals are now free to roam without being tempting into munching down on the styrofoam and dying due to blockage of their precious digestive tracks. This is a definite win!


Well, not so fast there, my tree-hugging friends. While those among us who consider themselves "green" are obviously definitely in favor of the bill, support is not as universal as one might expect. As Stuart Waldman over at the San Gabriel Valley Tribune points out, putting a ban on the containers will also cost the state a bunch of jobs:

Many restaurants are also, somewhat surprisingly, against the ban. As the restaurant owner in this article over at The Huffington Post points out, the cost of a different takeout container might "more than double" if he's forced to use biodegradable containers. And in a business where profit margins are already extremely tough to gauge and subject to unpredictable whims, adding an extra bunch of money that needs to be spent will, no doubt, put a bunch of restaurants out of business. (Although, that said, there's an amendment that's recently been added to the bill that will exempt restaurants who have a financial hardship.)

The whole issue's a bit more complex than just "save the environment!" In fact, it's so complex, that I'm not entirely sure which way I'm swaying with this one and just stepping out to let you folks decide.

So, then: What do you think?


We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading