California First State to Ban Styrofoam Packaging

California is close to being the first state to approve a ban on Styrofoam. The state Senate passed a bill that will prohibit vendors—mainly restaurants and grocery stores—from using the controversial packaging by July 2016. Schools would have to make the shift by 2017.

Already, 50 state jurisdictions have banned the containers from being used as take-out receptacles for restaurants including Santa Monica, Malibu and all of Ventura County.

According to the California Department of Transportation, Styrofoam accounts for 15 percent of storm drain litter—drifting from street to storm drain to ocean. The Southern California Coastal Water Quality Research Project says it’s the second most common type of debris found on beaches.

Styrofoam was developed by the Dow Chemical Company in the 1970s. It’s a lightweight foamed form of plastic that was developed as an insulation device.  In addition to being a litter nuisance, it was responsible for high levels of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)  that are so damaging to the environment, they were banned in 1989, forcing Dow to change production methods to reduce the pollution. The 1989 ban subsequently led to a drastic reduction in the use of Styrofoam by companies including major fast food chains.

Despite its reduction, it’s still widely used in the restaurant industry and its main drawbacks are that it doesn’t easily breakdown, and when it gets wet, it releases toxic chemicals. According to the website, GreenHome.com, by 1986, styrene was found in 100 percent of all human fat samples taken in part of a U.S. EPA Human Tissue Survey.  The study cited that the chemicals in Styrofoam containers leak into the food they’re holding, winding up in our bodies and capable of causing health issues such as insomnia, nervousness, blood abnormalities and certain types of cancer.

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Photo: Wonderlane