Opinion: The last chance for California to say no to polystyrene plastic trash this year

Plastics and other detritus line the shore of the Thames Estuary on January 2, 2018.
(Dan Kitwood / Getty Images)

Plastic trash is a big problem for the world’s oceans and lakes, and for the creatures that depend on them for life. Happily, the public is starting to wake up to the fact that decades of wanton use of disposable plastic, from Bic lighters to Solo cups, is doing environmental damage that is quickly approaching climate-change levels of concern. Unlike carbon emissions, however, plastic litter is easy to see with the naked eye, making it very difficult to deny its existence.

That why it was surprising, and dismaying, that California state Senators last Spring declined to take a stand on one particular plastic scourge, polystyrene takeout containers. All the more perplexing, they did so on the very same day they were passing an important environmental law requiring that 100% of the state’s electricity be generated from renewable resources by 2045. (The latter bill ended up failing in the state Assembly.)

State senators have a chance this week to rectify that error by voting for SB 705 by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) before Wednesday, sending it to the state Assembly for more discussion. If this bill doesn’t get out of the Senate by Wednesday, it would be dead for the year. That would be too bad as it would allow at least another year of plastic trash to pile up.


Polystyrene takeout products are a favorite for many food service businesses because they are cheap and durable. As a bonus, the soft foam version insulates, keeping hot drinks warm. But though polystyrene technically can be recycled, it rarely is. This is why more than 100 cities and counties in California have already adopted local restrictions on polystyrene use. The local laws vary greatly and it makes sense to replace this patchwork with one uniform rule.

(While they are at it, state legislators should keep two other plastic-waste related bills alive, at least for a while longer. One would require that plastic bottle caps be tethered to bottles and the other mandates beverage containers contain a minimum amount of recycled material. The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board hasn’t taken a position on these two bills, and it may not, but the ideas behind the legislation are at least worthy enough for more public debate in the next months.)

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