Sure, Zero Waste is a “lofty goal.” But it’s achievable. Here’s how we can work together to make it happen.

Zero Waste is a lofty, but achievable goal. A Styrofoam ban seemed like a no-brainer, but it was not. Dozens of residents, business owners and city officials spent more than a year researching, discussing and debating the pro and cons from the perspective of each side of the issue. We are not at zero waste yet, but are now one step closer. 

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I am pleased to report that after more than a year of discussion, deliberation, debacle and debate, the City of Pasadena voted unanimously tonight to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS or Styrofoam) containers.

I learned of the proposed expanded polystyrene ban in early 2015 while reviewing the City of Pasadena’s Zero Waste 2040 strategic plan. I am not lying when the first thing that came to mind was that silly 1995 Pauly Shore movie, Jury Duty. The premise is that Pauly Shore is an unemployed male stripper who gets on the jury of a murder trial because it pays $5 per day and he is sequestered in a hotel room. In the movie the defendant is clearly guilty and the trial should be a slam dunk, where it not for Shore’s character creating doubt solely for the purpose of collecting the stipend and digs.

To date, approximately 1/3 of all fish have ingested plastic, which means that if you are what you eat and you eat fish you too are made of plastic.

While this might seem ridiculous, the alternative is him living in a rundown trailer where his mom watches TV all day while her boyfriend drives around town like a lunatic, collecting expanded polystyrene. He, of course, thinks that everyone else is crazy for littering it because he knows that this material can be recycled and that he is going to become a millionaire.

If you are wondering how this relates to the City’s now approved ban, I will get to that in a moment, but first, some information:

EPS does not break down in landfills

Although it makes up only 1/10 of 1% by volume of landfilled material, it is toxic. In general, plastic is bad, but EPS is even worse due to the chemicals that are used to puff it up, giving it that squishy foam feel.

EPS is a flight risk

Cups and clamshells can be seen blowing in the wind almost everywhere. Unfortunately, when they end up in storm drains, they make their way to the ocean. Once in the ocean, EPS breaks down into tiny pieces that look like fish food. To date, approximately 1/3 of all fish have ingested plastic, which means that if you are what you eat and you eat fish you too are made of plastic.

Pasadena is the 67th city in California to approve at least a partial ban on EPS. My friend Craig Cadwallader at of the Surfrider Foundation maintains a comprehensive list of each ordinace with details.

What this ordinance covers:

Businesses can no longer sell or provide their customers with EPS to-go cups or containers. As it relates to Pasadena specifically, this means restaurants such as King Taco, Zankou Chicken and Mediterranean Café must find alternatives to EPS containers.

Prohibits the sale or distribution of EPS purchased after January 1 2017. Businesses in theory can stockpile this material and use it for as long as they have it in inventory by the last day of this year.

What this ordinance leaves out:

Polystyrene (any non-foam plastic with a #6 on it) cups, lids and containers; plastic utensils, grocery store meat trays.

Replacing single-use items with single-use items is not a long term solution.

As much as I appreciate the amount of effort that the city of Pasadena Municipal Services Committee put into considering this ban, I am disappointed that so many potential items were excluded. Most coffee lids are made out of polystyrene and thus not included. I would LOVE to see companies like Starbucks and McDonald’s adopt voluntary bans on this material (which is the hard, non-foam version of EPS) since it does not get recycled.

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This reminds me… The reason this ordinance reminded me of Jury Duty is because listening Dart Container Corporation, which is the Nation’s largest manufacturer of single use takeaway cups and containers defend EPS as recyclable commodity is like listening to Pauly Shore’s mom’s boyfriend ramble on about his get rich quick scheme.

Yes, EPS is in theory recyclable, but does it actually get recycled? The short answer: NO.

Yes, polystyrene is in theory recyclable, but does it actually get recycled? Once again: NO.

Replacing single-use items with single-use items is not a long term solution.

At all of the municipal services committee meetings, the representative from Dart reinforced over and over again that replacing one single-use item with another single-use item is not a viable solution.

You know what? He is right. I agree with him. Single-use items are not the remedy to our world’s addiction to plastic and disposable items.

The only true solution:

In the hierarchy of waste and materials, recycling is always listed second to last, just before disposal. This is because to get to zero waste, we must reduce our consumption of all material and we can achieve this by:

Redesign items to be stronger and more durable.

Repair items that are broken or damaged.

Reuse durable items over and over again.

Rethink our relationship with disposable items.

I feel for the business owners who look at this as just one more strain on small business. And for the many who will switch to more expensive disposable options over transitioning to reusable cups and containers, it will be a financial burden.

Dart, if you’re reading this, let us shift the dialogue from fear of change to assurance, trust and encouragement.

Many of my colleagues would love for Dart to go out of business and for single-use items to just go away…to disappear, but that is not going to happen. It is so challenging to walk the environmental line. I want to be a person who unites rather than divides. We live in a consumer-driven society, and when it is all said and done, Dart and other manufacturers are fulfilling a demand.

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I have committed my professional life to helping businesses both large and small manage responsible supply chains that are lean, mean and sustainable. Dart, if you’re reading this, let us shift the dialogue from fear of change to assurance, trust and encouragement. Let us work together to shape a sustainable planet that is equitable, bearable and viable.

PS: I worked on a project inside a county jail. We practically broke the baler trying to compact EPS so that it wouldn’t blow all over the place. We could not sell it. We could not give it away. Instead, we threw it in the trash.