The City of Minneapolis, MN recently decided to take a proposed amendment that would change the way many of its local restaurants, grocery stores, food trucks and other organizations do business to a city council vote. The alteration to an ordinance currently in place would ban the use polystyrene foam foodservice products within city limits. Many locals and professionals are speaking out and questioning how banning one specific product will address the overall reasoning for the amendment – to reduce the amount of litter on Minneapolis streets and in area landfills. When referring to polystyrene foam products, individuals often mistakenly refer to it Styrofoam®, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company. Polystyrene foam makes up most of the single-use foodservice items that consumers prefer, such as hot beverage cups and take-away food containers.
Representatives of Dart Container Corporation testified before the city’s Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee to ensure the facts surrounding foam products and their environmental impact were correctly interpreted, as well as to encourage the council to pursue alternatives to an all-out ban, such as new recycling programs. AnnMarie Treglia, Dart’s Global Manager of Government Affairs and the Environment, led the team during the testimony. Treglia opened her remarks by tackling the notion that banning polystyrene foam would reduce the amount of litter in city streets and area landfills. Treglia states that “landfills treat all materials the same – they do not favor compostable products over non-compostable or paper over plastic. This means if you dispose of a foam cup, a compostable cup, and a paper cup and they all go to the landfill they will all remain entombed there. None of the cups will magically disappear since today’s modern landfills are made to entomb anything that is put into them.” In regards to the act of littering, Treglia goes on to comment that litter is simply a result of how humans behave, and banning foam products will not do away with litter issues, but instead replace foam litter with other types of waste. This theory is supported by a recent study conducted in San Francisco, CA, where it was found that the amount of plastic-coated paper cup litter increased after foam products were banned in the city.
Treglia also makes it a point to note that contrary to misinformation, foam is 100% recyclable and has a lower environmental footprint when compared to many alternatives. She states: “When compared to paper, the typical substitute for foam, research shows that foam uses less steam, energy, cooling water and chemicals to manufacture than an equivalent paper cup.” Dart has developed initiatives in several cities throughout the U.S. because of this same issue. The Chicago suburb Highland Park, for example, is benefitting from a foam recycling initiative that’s been in effect for over three years. Foam recycling programs allow local business owners to continue using their preferred, cost-effective foam products, while enabling city leaders to truly reduce the amount of litter that ends up in streets and landfills.