Turning the Tide on the Plastic Industry’s Political Stronghold

Californians Against Waste Foundation’s (CAWF) project is focused on community outreach and education around single-use take-out food packaging. CAWF is working directly with local governments, community groups, and local businesses to phase-out the use of the most polluting and non-recyclable materials – principally, expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, often known by its trademark name, Styrofoam – and replace these materials with reusable, recyclable, or compostable counterparts.

Take-out food packaging is one of the most common types of ocean pollution. Designed to be used for minutes at a time and consumed out of the house, these materials are discarded, both improperly and properly, by the tons every day. Popularized for its cheap price tag and insulation capabilities, EPS is the most commonly used material for take-out food packaging in California. Unfortunately, once food-soiled, this material is unrecyclable. It ends up in trash cans, in landfills, as blight in our communities, and most devastatingly, as pollution in our ocean where marine wildlife mistake it for food.

Even when properly disposed of, EPS is often blown out of trash bins and garbage trucks due to its lightweight nature. Once in the environment, EPS breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, making it easily transported by air and water and impossible to clean up. Take-out food packaging and EPS are such ubiquitous sources of ocean pollution that they are consistently rated among the top ten most frequently found types of litter in the Ocean Conservancy’s annual international coastal clean-ups.

The solution to this problem is a transition to entirely reusable, recyclable, and compostable take-out food packaging and a phase-out of EPS. Through the implementation of city-by-city ordinances and efforts for statewide legislation, the elimination of wasteful take-out packaging in our oceans can become a reality. CAWF is working with interested local governments to introduce ordinances designed to transition cities and counties to zero-waste take-out food packaging.

More than one hundred jurisdictions in California have already passed local ordinances restricting the use of EPS and/or requiring that all take-out food packaging be recyclable or compostable. Along with our numerous coalition partners and the financial assistance of Plastic Solutions Fund, CAWF is working to expand this number and permanently turn the tide on the plastic industry’s political stronghold.