A Senate bill designed to ban California food vendors from using Styrofoam cups and trays is heading to the state Assembly and causing a stir in San Joaquin County, where a Lodi factory is likely to close if the bill becomes law.
The Dart Container Corp. in east Lodi employs 90 people to manufacture polystyrene -- commonly known as Styrofoam -- food containers and has garnered local support as a "closed loop" recycler of foam materials. Dart allows people to bring foam materials back to its warehouse to be recycled and has reached out to local schools with lunch programs where children eat from foam trays that are later recycled.
Senate Bill 568, authored by Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, moves to ban foam food packaging in all cities that don't commit to a recycling program by Jan. 1, 2014. The bill was passed by the Senate on Friday with a 21-15 vote -- supported by environmentalists but opposed by Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Oakdale, who said jobs and tax revenue should be in the forefront of the state's mind-set.
Dart employs hundreds of employees in Southern California as well as Lodi, Berryhill said.
"And (the bill) doesn't address the real foam problem, which is the kind they use to pack televisions and other electronics devices," Berryhill said. "That's the type of foam that gets into our water and hurts the environment."
Assemblywoman Alyson Huber, D-Lodi, said she is also fighting the bill and is hopeful it will die on the Assembly floor.
Huber said the state is "picking" on foam packaging, noting that California has created easy ways for the public to recycle paper, glass, and other materials but has ignored Styrofoam.
Polystyrene can be recycled and used as crown molding in homes or picture frames.
"I'm going to continue to advocate for the inclusion of polystyrene in the recycling stream," Huber said, noting that the bill leaves room for cities and counties to allow food vendors to use foam if they create programs guaranteeing at least a 60 percent recycling rate of the material.
Lowenthal has touted the bill as an environmental savior for California.
"I introduced this bill not just to solve an environmental problem that plagues our state but also because it's a job-booster for California," Lowenthal told the Los Angeles Times last week, saying that the state will see a surge in alternative packaging production.
Dart plant manager Ron Crookham said those jobs are more likely to be sent out of the country, a notion supported by Berryhill, who called Lowenthal's bill a "job killer."
"For starters, we need those 100 jobs in Lodi, and there's another 300 jobs that will be lost in Corona," Berryhill said. "We're in an economy with 15 percent to 20 percent unemployment; cutting jobs is bad policy."
Dart is one of Lodi's largest employers and is among the city's top 10 payers of property tax, city spokesman Jeff Hood said.
Environmentalists say foam makes up 15 percent of all litter in California. The San Francisco- based Clean Water Action group said because the products are so lightweight and break down into small particles, they are difficult to contain through street sweeping and other trashcollecting measures.
"We've just completed a litter study in four jurisdictions and found that approximately 70 percent of litter comes from food and beverage packaging, including foam," California Water Action Director Miriam Gordon said. "Recycling addresses our household waste, but it doesn't solve the litter problem."
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.