COGC, Maine Business Leaders, and Governor Urge Portland to Reject Polystyrene Ban

Today, the Cost of Government Center, Maine business leaders, and the Governor sent a coalition letter to the Portland City Council urging them to reject a proposed polystyrene ban:

Dear Portland City Council,

We are writing to share our concerns regarding a proposed ban on the use of polystyrene in food packaging applications. The “Green Packaging Working Group Task Force” was tasked with examining this proposal and opted instead to simply endorse the measure. We urge the Council to reject a ban on polystyrene and instead invest time into examining more adequate ways to recycle the product locally.

Efforts to ban the use of polystyrene ignore science, the importance of consumer choice, and the onerous nature of requiring local businesses and franchises to use more expensive packaging materials. This reckless measure will do little to solve the issue of litter, which is the result of poor human behavior.

The science behind claims that polystyrene is toxic to humans, cannot be recycled and does not biodegrade simply does not exist.

Polystyrene is non-toxic. The collective evidence shows that consumers are not at danger. This might be why not a single regulatory body in the world has classified styrene, the monomer that polystyrene is made from, as a human carcinogen.

Scare tactics can be a strong motivator for regulations and restrictions, despite the negligence of economic or health harms associated with them. Serious policymakers would refuse to partake in this feckless mode of governance and carefully consider the risks of a ban on a nearly ubiquitous product.

It is clear that the financial impact of a polystyrene ban would be detrimental to local small businesses and increase the cost of goods for consumers. The Portland School Department’s food service director even said that “costs quadrupled when the district decided to use paper lunch trays instead of polystyrene trays, going from 3 cents a tray to 12 cents.” Imagine that impact citywide – all without scientific proof that such a ban would actually reduce litter.

Polystyrene can be recycled. In fact, its recyclability can be significant in many “green causes” like “green buildings” and alternative energy production. When it is cleaned, ground down, and heated, it is an extremely inexpensive insulation material. Most windmill blades use polystyrene as a base component and it plays a role in the production of many solar panels. The material is strong, inexpensive, durable, and lightweight.

The use of polystyrene helps reduce waste. Because paper foodservice packaging is heavier than foam products, in many cases their environmental impact is higher than corresponding polystyrene products. Additionally, according to a study from the Stanford Research Institute, the plastic coating on paperboard makes it nearly impossible to recycle.

Companies can be incentivized to collect and reuse polystyrene. Walmart, for example, has a recycling program and uses what is collected for picture frames. The city should consider the creation of a collection site, similar to ones in Kennebunk or Camden. In 2010, 71 million pounds of expanded polystyrene were recycled, including 37.1 million pounds of post-consumer packaging and 34.2 million pounds of post-industrial packaging. Rather than killing jobs, as a ban would do by increasing costs on local businesses, this could offer even more opportunities for employment in the area.

Policies that incentivize collection of polystyrene, then, could do much more good than a ban. Because of its uses, it is extremely valuable once compacted. Manufacturers nationwide can and do use the product in more than green causes.

At the end of the day, the Portland City Council should attempt to examine the hard data and facts when it comes to polystyrene and the environment. Nanny-state European-style bans are not the best course of action given the possible financial impact and lack of scientific evidence used by environmentalists with a political agenda.

Consumers are already facing higher prices for food, fuel, and everyday products. We urge the Council to re-examine any proposed ban on polystyrene and consider alternatives that could expand the possibilities for recycling, job creation and reduced waste.

Click here for a PDF version of the coalition letter. 

TAGS: Regulation, Business, Nanny State

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