Feel-Good Politics of a Styrofoam Ban

by Pearl Hahn 

Environmentalists love banning items they claim are destroying our natural ecosystems. Ban paper, ban plastic, ban Styrofoam. I suspect they would prefer to carry around their shopping items stacked on their bare hands while balancing on a bicycle on the highway, but if they actually did so, that wouldn’t explain how so many of them continue to wreak havoc on common sense.

Paper, plastic, and Styrofoam have become representative of an evil, modern consumer mentality. Never mind that such innovations have enabled a huge net reduction of waste and consumer costs while increasing the efficiency of resource utilization, which is presumably what environmentalists want.

On Maui, the Infrastructure Management Committee is considering a Styrofoam ban. Such a ban would cost an extra 15 to 25 cents per plate lunch. Do you know who this ban would hurt the most? Poor people. Do you know who supports this ban? Greenpeace suburban college students and middle-to-upper class vegans, the kind who are less impacted by shelling out another quarter per meal.

Irrational environmentalists who support the Styrofoam ban either haven’t the faintest idea or choose to ignore how the modern world operates. Their flashy solar panels and hybrid cars provide them with a shaky moral pedestal on which to stand and lecture the poor and their environmentally destructive habits. They are blissfully ignorant of the fact that their Priuses are doing little to save the earth with their high energy use from raw materials extraction, manufacturing, refining, and disposing and recycling of parts (including the nickel batteries, which leave a carbon trail from Canada to Wales then to China and Japan). The irony of purchasing ‘environmentally-friendly,’ vegan shoes from air-conditioned, temperature-controlled shopping malls eludes them.

Styrofoam has become the latest culprit in the eyes of the Prius drivers and vegan shoe-wearers who say Styrofoam is not recyclable and contaminates the oceans. But Styrofoam consumes far fewer resources than paper; namely one-sixth the physical material and one-thirty-sixth the electricity. This might explain why it is also 60% less costly than paper.

The bottom line is that development of synthetic materials including disposable packaging has allowed us to utilize our resources with increasing efficiency, the ultimate goal of any civilized society. We can throw away less and enjoy our oversized restaurant dinners from Sunday to Saturday thanks to modern packaging technology and its powers of preservation. Do the irrational environmentalists take issue with how every 1 percent increase in packaging in the country results in a 1.6% decrease in food waste?

Joe Souki, on behalf of the American Chemistry Council, said it best to the Maui County Council: banning Styrofoam will not reduce litter, but merely change the type of litter. Ban wagons make for good sound-bytes, but sink in the face of reality.

Comments are encouraged. Pearl can also be reached at pearl@grassrootinstitute.org.

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