Students draw heavyweight opposition in fight on styrofoam container ban they propose in Elk Grove

UPDATED 10 a.m.

In a sign of how effective they were, not only did a group of Elk Grove Unified School District high school students persuade the Elk Grove City Council to form a study group to explore a citywide styrofoam ban but in doing so, their efforts drew heavyweight opposition. 

The students, who belong to environmental clubs at district high schools including Cosumnes Oaks and Elk Grove made their presentation on a possible citywide ban of styrofoam containers, were granted the opportunity to make a formal presentation at the Wednesday, May 22 meeting. Several of the same students who made last night's presentation appeared during the public comment section of the May 8 meeting asking for the opportunity.

During their presentation, the students spoke of the long-term effect styrofoam has on health and the environment. The students also highlighted that the city's no-cost contract with Dart Container to recycle the waste material stipulates in consideration for their services, the city cannot ban the use of the containers.   

Among the holes in that agreement, the students noted is that containers with food waste were exempted from recycling. These containers find their way to landfills instead of being recycled. 

Elk Grove High School student Soumaya Lhamous compared Dart to big tobacco saying "Dart is not some bystander, they're a corporation that is making money off our use of styrofoam" and "think about Dart as a tobacco company coming into Elk Grove and saying 'hey, we'll give you all free inhalers if you guarantee if someone in your community smokes every day."  

Among the opponents speaking on behalf of Dart and the styrofoam industry was a representative of Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D - Elk Grove), Dart and two lobbying groups. 

Cooper's representative Mikey Hothi said Dart has recycled about one ton of material since entering in the contract with the city. Hothi added since the material is mostly air, the one-ton was a significant amount of material by volume. 

Cooper, along with State Senator Richard Pan and Elk Grove city council members Stephanie Nguyen and Darren Suen have accepted campaign contributions from Dart. Based in Mason, Michigan, Dart is the world's largest manufacturer of single-use styrofoam products, many used in restaurants.

Dart representative Becky Warren noted scientific studies have found that styrofoam is not considered a carcinogen. 

"The chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society quoted 'consumers don't need to worry about polystyrene, I see no problems with polystyrene containers or cup,'" Warren said.  

Additionally, Warren said that if other types of containers were used instead of styrofoam, a cup of coffee could cost as much as $5. A representative of the California Restaurant Association echoed many of the same sentiment expressed by Warren 

Representing the styrofoam trade group American Chemistry Council was Lauren Scott who tacitly admitted the harms of the plastic products, but noted the industry has proposed that all plastic materials in the United States be recovered or recycled by 2030. Scott also suggested the ban would result in different types of unspecified material that are worse than styrofoam. 

"In some cases, alternatives to polystyrene are not recyclable, and often they require more energy and water to produce and are heavier and require fuel to transport," Scott said.

One of the several people speaking in support of the students was Elk Grove resident Bill Myers who referenced the students' interviews with restaurant owners. Those interviews found some restaurants are voluntarily moving away from styrofoam containers because of environmental concerns and the recently enacted plastic straw ban.

"One important reason for having the regulation is that it sets a level playing field," Myers said. "If you have it throughout the city, then everybody has to follow it, and the people who decide they want to make a little more investment aren't penalized by doing that. Everybody is on a level playing field, so it is fair."   

Not to be outwitted, following Assemblymember Cooper's representative, industry lobbyist, and corporate spokespeople Elk Grove High School student and Environmental Club member Addie Partington redirected many of the assertions made by the pro-styrofoam advocates. Partington urged the city council to consider health and environmental effects over any additional nominal cost of using alternatives.

"I don't believe ones desire to save money should be prioritized over the health of our city and our world," Partington said. 

Partington also pushed back on Warren's $5 cup of coffee warning saying that "I would rather pay a little more knowing that my cup isn't made out of a material that is going to kill the earth."

10 a.m. update - The big tobacco quote was attributed to Soumaya Lhamous.  

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D.J. Blutarsky said...

As I watched the meeting last night and read this article, some things just keep gnawing at me:

First, is it just a coincidence that the 'big guns' all showed up last night because they just 'happened' to see the agenda and that some high school students were going to speak? Or did someone at City Hall help coordinate the opposition forces to squash the students like bugs?

This kind of reminds me of the previous City Council meeting when the labor unions and construction big guns showed up en masse to squash the Stonelakes group (NEST) opposed to the CNU hospital project. Except in that case, NEST used the public comment section of the agenda to speak, and so it would not have appeared beforehand on the agenda.

Second, has our city sunk to a new low or what, when a handful of high school students merely trying to clean up a world they will soon inherit, scare the big guns into mercilessly squashing them in front of their teachers and advisors? Is the pro-growth development machine that insecure in their rigged gameplan?

And finally, after the brutal show of force to be sure the green earth movement does not stick in Elk Grove, I was nauseated to hear each Council member, including those enriched with Dart campaign money, thank the students in a such a condescending way--especially since the big guns had already gone home!

Maybe the City ought to amend their proposed budget to raise the dias a few feet out of the BS floodplain, because the Council Chambers keep sinking to new lows!

Connie said...

Every time I read a comment, such as the one above, written by D.J. Blutarsky or Capt. Benjamin J. Willard, I think of the famous quotes noted in film clip link below.

However, as noted the clip, I never think they are “getting on my nerves.”

As in D.J.’s comment above, both are excellent writers, often adding a touch of sarcasm one has to admire, have an uncanny insight into the innerworkings of Elk Grove City government, and leave the reader waiting for more.

Whomever they are, please continue with your insightful comments!

Eg citizen said...

My favorite was when Addie Partington let Warren know her threat of $5. coffee was already a fact! Good job Addie.

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