Take-out food packaging ban

By CMTA Staff

Capitol Update, June 8, 2007

 In March, the Ocean Protection Council (OPC) passed a ten-part resolution aimed at curbing marine debris.  Although the OPC charged the Department of Toxic Substance Control, under the California Environmental Protection Agency, with the responsibility of developing a plan by year-end to address this issue, legislators have jumped the gun and introduced a number of bills which they believe will solve this problem.  Among these bills is AB 904 (Mike Feuer, D-Los Angeles), Recycling of Food Containers.

AB 904 would ban take-out food packaging by creating an unachievable mandate on restaurants to only use food containers, plates, bowls, trays and cups that are "recyclable" or "compostable" in most curbside programs.  The problem is that most curbside programs do not accept food service disposable packaging of any kind.  

While compostable containers and products are emerging in the marketplace, questions remain as to whether sufficient and consistent supplies of these products are available on a grand scale.  Some manufacturers of corn-based containers suggest specific handling instructions: avoid high temperature, keep out of direct sunlight, and keep it cool.  Outdoor vendors, like at a fair, would find such restrictions impossible to deal with.  

Proponents of AB 904 suggest that plastic packaging is non-biodegradable, litter prone and poses a real threat to water quality and the marine environment.  However, bio-based containers only degrade in a controlled composting environment.  Few such facilities exist and few communities offer composting to residents.  These containers do not degrade if littered along the side of the road, deposited into a trash can, or if they find their way into a storm drain or other waterway.  

There is a better solution.  The state could work with the private sector to continue and expand litter reduction efforts which address the prevention of all types of litter at the source and continue the promotion of environmental education and outreach on the impacts of marine debris and litter prevention.  Marine litter is not a problem because of the packaging materials involved - It's a problem because people's habits need to be changed.

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