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This Earth Day, members of Colorado’s Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee will vote on SB19-243, a bill which would eliminate the use of to-go food containers made of polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam. The bill is sponsored by Senators Moreno and Foote, and Representatives Singer and Cutter.
Polystyrene is a particularly harmful form of plastic pollution. It is lightweight so it can float down rivers or get blown hundreds of miles through the air. It breaks into smaller pieces, called microplastics, which absorb toxic pollution in the environment and are ingested by wildlife including fish, reptiles, mammals, birds and earthworms. Ultimately, polystyrene takes 500 or more years to completely break down in the environment, polluting Colorado for centuries.
“Nothing we use once to transport a drink or food should be allowed to pollute our state for hundreds of years,” said Danny Katz, director of the consumer advocacy group CoPIRG. “This Earth Day, five Colorado legislators have a chance to move a bill forward to eliminate one of the most harmful and unnecessary forms of plastic pollution by voting yes on SB19-243.”
Plastic pollution litters our communities, undermines recycling efforts, pollutes our waterways, harms wildlife, and endangers our health, and polystyrene foam cups and plates are a major contributor. Coloradans toss an estimated 1 million foam cups away every day. As a headwaters state, some of that lightweight foam is carried downstream. In the ocean, polystyrene foam is the most frequently observed plastic litter, and has been found in remote corners of the Arctic.
“It’s time to put wildlife over waste and eliminate single-use plastic foam cups and containers,” said Emily Struzenberg, a campaign organizer with Environment Colorado. “That’s why over 23,000 Coloradans from across the state signed petitions over the last year calling on the Legislature to eliminate polystyrene to-go cups and containers.”
The impact of plastic pollution on wildlife is huge. Hundreds of species of animals have ingested plastic pollution and a recent study from UCLA found approximately 25% of fish sold at markets in California contained plastic in their guts, mostly in the form of plastic microfibers. It is not just aquatic life that is impacted. Studies suggest that exposure to polystyrene microplastics harms earthworms, inhibiting growth and increasing mortality, which in turn puts larger terrestrial ecosystems at risk.
Polystyrene is also extremely difficult to recycle. It is easily crushed and shredded, mistaken for paper, missed by manual sorters, and contaminates other parts of the waste stream harming and driving up the cost of other recycling efforts.
Numerous communities and companies have phased out polystyrene cups and containers including 119 cities in California, New York City, Montgomery County, MD and major companies like McDonalds. The state of Maryland just passed a similar statewide polystyrene ban to SB19-243 that will go into effect in 2020.
In places where polystyrene has been eliminated, it has had a real impact. From 2008 to 2012, after the California cities of Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove banned polystyrene foam food ware, polystyrene litter on local beaches decreased by as much as 71 percent.
“Coloradans should not have to accept that the cost of taking a smoothie to go or ordering food to our home means we have to use a container that will last past the year 2519 – littering our communities, floating in our waterways, harming our wildlife and health, and driving up the cost of our recycling efforts. Centuries of negative impacts is not worth it. We do not need it. We must eliminate polystyrene containers today,” said Katz.
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