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Commentary: Polystyrene ban makes perfect sense

January 22, 2014

As the debate over the proposed ban on single-use polystyrene food ware and beverage containers heats up in Huntington Beach, it's time for facts.

Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation has been swirling around about polystyrene, sometimes referred to as Styrofoam.

As an educator with the Huntington Beach Union High School District, lifelong surfer and active member of the Surfrider Foundation, it is my job and my passion to educate students and the public about the numerous threats to our local environment, marine ecosystems and human health.

I have spent hundreds of hours researching data from top scientists around the world and spent thousands of hours on our ocean, not only surfing but also cleaning up debris that washes up on the beaches. I feel as though I have intimate knowledge about polystyrene pollution.

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I respect local policy makers who fear that a ban would be just another form of government control, but sometimes local legislation is required to guide producers and consumers toward sound decisions that benefit public health and the environment.

Where would we be today if the government didn't step in and investigate the safety of Bisphenol A (BPA), one of the most highly toxic substances used in many of our plastic products?

Now let's look as some of the misinformation that has been fed to the public recently regarding polystyrene.

•It's recyclable. Not really. While clean expanded polystyrene foam used for protective packaging is recyclable and can even be turned into products like surfboards blanks, food ware that is moist or soiled with food is rarely recyclable.

Since I deal closely with our local disposal company for my school's recycling program, I know firsthand what is and is not recyclable. Unfortunately, neither consumers nor our disposal company typically wash and dry the takeout containers which results in a majority of that material being sent overseas to be landfilled, incinerated, or otherwise disposed of.

•A ban will cause financial hardships on local businesses. At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Councilwoman Connie Boardman said four local cities that have enacted a similar ban have not gotten negative feedback. She read a letter from the Newport Beach Restaurants Assn. stating that Newport's ban was "met with little resistance from the restaurant community."

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