The town council of Cape Elizabeth recently proposed banning polystyrene foam containers in the town. However, a measure so drastic could have unintended negative consequences, especially for schools and small businesses.
Polystyrene foam—not to be confused with Styrofoam, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company—is used most often for common products like clamshell carryout containers, egg cartons, and coffee cups. It can be easily identified by the #6 symbol that is stamped on its products.
A ban on this product can be detrimental to small business owners. Restaurant owners argue that without polystyrene foam, they would have to resort to more expensive containers which, in turn, would lead to an increase in prices for customers. This is not to say that the polystyrene foam is “cheap,” or inefficient, by any means; many restaurants prefer the foam over alternatives due to its dependability and durability.
Similarly, any ban of foam food containers would affect local schools. School districts across the country also rely on foam to keep costs down because a foam tray costs significantly less than alternatives. By investing in education instead of cafeteria trays, schools can better serve their teachers, students, and communities.
Instead of an irrational ban on the foam, more focus should be put on polystyrene recycling efforts. Polystyrene is a strong plastic that can be recycled into domestic building products, surfboards, smoke detectors, rulers, and garden nursery trays.
Polystyrene can also be recycled over and over again because it is a thermoplastic: a plastic material that becomes pliable or moldable above a specific temperature and solidifies upon cooling.
Any ban would shift the conversation away from the logical alternative—recycling—and prove to be unproductive and damaging to small business owners and schools.