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Styrofoam Containers Could Be Banned Under Proposed D.C. Legislation

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Representatives from styrofoam companies say banning their products substitutes one kind of litter for another.
Louis Shackleton: http://www.flickr.com/photos/10923557@N06/3977750554
Representatives from styrofoam companies say banning their products substitutes one kind of litter for another.

The District is considering a plan to ban styrofoam food containers. Supporters say the move will help clean up the Anacostia River, but critics are raising doubts.

There are eleven different bills in Mayor Vincent Gray's package of environmental legislation, but its one measure that seems to be grabbing all the attention — a plan to ban styrofoam containers at restaurants by 2018.

The goal is to reduce pollution in the Anacostia River, argued James Foster of the Anacostia Watershed Society at a D.C. Council hearing on Wednesday.

"I'm certain you will hear from packaging manufactures that a ban is an affront to their livelihood. But I'm here today speaking for the Anacostia River, which has no master on Wall Street, who has taken all this abuse for so long and whose waters long for clarity and sustainability. 'Free me from styrofoam' is the call I hear from the river. 'Stop clogging my arteries and tributaries with trash,'" he said.

The problem with styrofoam, according to environmental activists, is that its not biodegradable and often breaks down into little pieces that cannot be picked up. Additionally, they say, there are potential health risks.

But styrofoam industry representatives say banning the foam food containers could just end up substituting one form of litter for another. Plus, they say, if D.C. joins the list of cities that have been banned styrofoam food containers, people will lose their jobs.

Roger Bernstein of the American Chemistry Council said at the hearing that the foam containers do not pose a health risk to people.

"The FDA has been looking at this material for 50 years. Hospitals use it. Schools use it. The largest companies in the world use it with their customers. Are you telling me that there is an epidemic thats gonna come, a topological impact from this? It's just not true," he said.

In 2010, D.C. implemented a five-cent tax on plastic bags, with revenues going to a fund to help clean up the Anacostia River. City officials say that the tax has helped cut plastic bag usage significantly, leading to a drop in the number of plastic bags in the river.

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