Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans, Expanded Polystyrene Foam
January 02 2013

New Year Rings In With Plastic Reductions!

by Bill Hickman

2012 saw an increased groundswell of local actions across the county aimed at reducing plastic litter and some of the ordinances took effect on January 1st.  Corvallis, OR; Alameda County, CA; Laguna Beach, CA and Barrington, RI all have banned single-use plastic checkout bags at grocery stores.  In San Marcos, TX a ban on expanded polystyrene at City parks goes into effect to help keep the San Marcos River clear of plastic foam litter.  Concord, MA becomes the first town in the country to ban small plastic water bottles as their new law goes into effect.

Plastic bag legislation is one of the easiest ways to help reduce both plastic consumption and litter.  Plastic bag bans that include a small fee on paper bags seem to be the most effective model at reducing overall single-use bag consumption as a recent report from Los Angeles County shows.  Washington, DC reports continued success for their program that includes a five cent fee on both plastic and paper bags, showing that fee based legislation is also effective.

Corvallis, Alameda County and Laguna Beach are all implementing a plastic bag ban with a small fee for a paper bag as an incentive to remember reusable bags.  Corvallis is the first in Oregon with that model after Portland banned plastic bags in 2011.  The Alameda County ban covers all 14 cities and the unincorporated areas of the county, a population of over 1.5 million people!  Laguna Beach becomes the first city in Orange County to ban plastic bags, Dana Point goes into effect in April.  Most ordinances begin with larger stores then include smaller stores three to six months later as they typically need more time to go through existing stock. 

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) bans are nothing new as EPS foam foodware bans have been in effect in some places for over twenty years.  What is new are laws targeting other sorts of EPS that can be major sources of litter, such as foam coolers.  San Marcos, TX has banned EPS foam of any kind at city parks in an effort to keep the San Marcos River clear of plastic foam litter.  "Park rangers say coolers tend to open up or break on the river, becoming an environmental hazard."  A few municipalities in Santa Cruz County, CA have existing similar ordinances that ban the retail sale of EPS products.

Perhaps the most unique legislation going into effect is in Massachusetts.  Last April, the Town of Concord approved a retail ban on bottled water one liter (33.8 oz) or smaller.  Plastic bottle recovery and recycling is dramatically increased in states that have a bottle bill, or deposit/refund system in place.  Massachusetts has a bottle bill but it does not cover bottled water so Concord decided to take action in an effort to utilize tap water and reusable bottles to reduce plastic litter.

Surfrider Foundation helped to win 20 Coastal Victories in 2012 that were aimed at reducing plastic pollution in the marine environment.  We need your help to achieve more victories in 2013 so get involved with your local chapter, become a member and consider an additional donation.