Opinion: Even as they condemn Trump, California legislators fail the environment by killing polystyrene ban


President Trump had barely finished his announcement that he would be pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord Thursday afternoon when California’s Democratic lawmakers began tweeting, emailing and posting outraged retorts. Their overall message: California’s leaders care about protecting the environment even if the president doesn’t.

All this moralizing was a bit hard to take given that the California Senate just hours before killed a proposed statewide ban on polystyrene foam takeout containers, and on the very same day it passed a bill to require that 100% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy by 2045. What? Is only part of the environment worth protecting?

Hopefully not, because polystyrene plastic foam is one of the biggest sources of marine litter and costs the state and local governments millions of dollars each year to collect it from beaches, road sides and storm drains. Virtually none of billions of the foam cups plates and clamshell containers that Californians use each year are recycled.


That’s a problem because plastic foam doesn’t biodegrade like organic material but breaks down into smaller bits that hang around for a very long time and absorb toxins along the way. When these “microplastic” bits are in the ocean, and tons of them are, they get eaten by sea creatures and birds much to their detriment.

About 100 California cities and counties have recognized the scope of the plastic foam pollution problem and passed bans on food vendors and retailers from handing out polystyrene containers. The next natural step for the environmentally inclined California was statewide ban. Or so it seemed.

SB 705 failed to pass Wednesday not because a majority of senators didn’t vote for it, but because a handful of Democratic senators choose the craven path — not to vote at all. As President Trump might say, sad!

Sadder still was the lack of response from the same state leaders up in arms over Trump’s dumb decision on the Paris accord. Where was the condemnation of the 19 senators who voted against the ban or the six Democratic senators who were absent on the vote? Where were the harsh tweets and vows to fight against the scourge of plastic trash which is, by the way, impossible to deny, no matter your political inclination? One doesn’t need to trust science to grasp that there’s a plastic foam problem; just take a trip to the beach.

Democratic legislators like to paint themselves as defenders of the environment, and they are when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. But they must be spending too much time looking up because they tripped on the pollution right at their feet.

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