Students to Elk Grove City Council - We've been getting the run around on proposed styrofoam ban

Addie Partington. | 

A dozen students from Elk Grove area high schools seeking consideration of an expanded polystyrene (EPS, styrofoam) ban in the city appeared before the Elk Grove City Council on Wednesday, January 24 and were resolute in their stance on the harm they cause the environment. Those students speaking during public comment at the Elk Grove City Council meeting more significantly chided the city and corporate interests for dragging its feet on previous promises to bring the matter to the city council.


Last May many of these same students urged the city to study a possible citywide ban of single-use styrofoam containers used at many restaurants in the city. This group of environmentally-minded students has already persuaded the Elk Grove Unified School District from using the containers at its schools the Cosumnes Community Services District from allowing the use of the containers at their events.

In response, the city formed a stakeholder group called the EPS Committee to discuss this matter (see membership list left). Along with the students, other membership invitations were extended to corporate interests, a trade association, and Elk Grove City Councilmembers Stephanie Nguyen and Darren Suen.

While the students cited the environmental harm of styrofoam and how the citywide ban could help contribute to a worldwide movement, more emphasis was focused on the city and city council's inaction.

Typical of the criticism was Addie Partington's commentary who said the deck had been stacked against the students. Partington noted pro-styrofoam interests wielded more authority on the proceedings and the city never intended to take their request seriously.

"There is a clear power imbalance in the room where meetings are held," Partington said. "Paid corporate lobbyist and high school students will never be able to agree on the right way to deal with EPS."

Partington also said the city "has been dragging out this problem" and that is could have been resolved without lengthy delays. 

Because these were non-agenda comments, other members of the committee opposing the proposed styrofoam ban were not at the meeting. Reached by email, the pro-styrofoam committee members offered a different narrative.

Committee member Matt Sutton, senior vice president of government affairs and public policy for the California Restaurant Association said the process should be deliberative. The CRA has opposed banning restaurants from using single-use styrofoam containers. 

"While the students want an immediate result, the process for making good policy takes time because we have to process unbiased facts and hear from people and businesses in the community who will be impacted," Sutton said in an email.

Sutton also said there were no negative health effects from the use of styrofoam containers. While the students expressed health-related issues in their appearances, they stressed the detrimental effects styrofoam has on oceans and marine life.

During their deliberations, Nguyen and Suen indicated they have not participated in any of the meetings but said they would meet with the student committee members. According to the city's integrated waste manager and committee member Heather Neff, there have been committee meetings in August, two in October, December and January, with 17, 3, 8, 9, and 7 members attending respectively.

Additionally, there have been several sub-committee meetings but the city did not have further information on those sessions. Neff said city staff did not participate in any of those meetings so as to remain neutral.

Not mentioned by the students or pro-styrofoam advocates is the role of Mason, Michigan-based Dart Container, the world's large styrofoam manufacturer. In an agreement with the City of Elk Grove, Dart offers free recycling of styrofoam at the city's waste collection center.

A spokesperson for Dart Container said they have attended all the stakeholder meetings. The spokesperson said they would issue a statement on the students' comments, but as of this posting the statement has not been released.

Additionally, Dart Container has been a campaign contributor to Elk Grove City councilmembers, including Nguyen and Suen. Last year Nguyen expressed opposition to a ban citing the effects it would have on restaurants in Elk Grove.



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D.J. Blutarsky said...

Dart Container Political Contributions - 1
Students seeking a better world - 0

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