Have you ever wondered where the melted plastic from the Styrofoam container disappeared when your food was too hot? Ever wondered why pieces of Styrofoam are found in perfect condition after being buried for decades?
Recently, the D.C. Council adopted Bill 20-573, the “Sustainable DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2014,” which was introduced last November by Mayor Vincent Gray. The Committee on Transportation and the Environment, chaired by Councilmember Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), significantly refined and amended the bill to further the District’s sustainability initiatives.
Although the initial proposal banned the use of polystyrene foam (called Styrofoam) beginning in 2018, Cheh’s amended bill, passed at the Council’s final legislative session before recess, required food service providers eliminate this pervasive and potentially carcinogenic substance by 2016. “Accelerating the deadline to ban these products by two years is a strong reflection in our commitment to the health of our environment and our communities,” said Cheh. “Not only do polystyrene foam products represent up to 25 percent of the trash polluting the Anacostia River, but chemical substances within the foam pose a serious threat to human health. [Styrene, a possible neurotoxin, can readily leak from polystyrene containers.] Because of this threat, we need to react to the effects that this type of pollution has on both the river and the surrounding populace.”
Additional parts of these bills include:
* Requiring disposable food service ware to be compostable or recyclable by 2017
* Transportation benefits for those working for larger employers, supporting mass transit passes, bicycling and carpooling
* Requiring the city to come up with a zero waste plan, ensuring that at least 80 percent of District waste is diverted from incinerators and
* Requires better recycling education and labeling of bins
* Starts curbside composting collection
* Mandates electronic waste recycling
* Requires reporting of where our waste and recycling actually goes if collected by private haulers
“With this bill, we are successfully phasing out detrimental products from our waste stream and replacing them with compostable and recyclable products that will contribute to the District’s goal of becoming a zero waste city in the upcoming years,” said Cheh.
The adoption of this bill positions the District to meet and even surpass the standards set by over a hundred other jurisdictions across the country, such as Seattle and San Francisco, which have similarly banned toxic substances and
moved to a higher standard of environmental health.
“DC’s [current] waste system has environmental racism written all over it, from where Ward 5 communities are burdened with trash transfer stations, to the diverse Lorton, Va. community where much of our waste is burned, to the prison labor used to recycle the city’s electronic waste,” said Mike Ewall, founder and director of Energy Justice Network. “These bills make some solid steps in the right direction to reduce waste and derail the city’s scheme to possibly build a new incinerator. But much more needs to be done.”
June 2014, Anacostia Riverkeeper released its report card on local government and agencies regarding cleanup of the Anacostia River. Maryland and the District of Columbia both earned failing grades for water quality, and a C-rating for their overall efforts to cleanup and restore the river.
Other advocates agreed with the rating. “Styrofoam cups and containers are among the very worst of the huge trash problem on the Anacostia River that our organization has been fighting to change for 25 years,” said Dan Smith, public policy and advocacy director of the Anacostia Watershed Society. “Their ban in DC is great news for the river, the wildlife, and for the communities of the Anacostia that continue to put up with an improving, but still filthy river.”
Sandra Seegars has been living in Ward 8 since 1969. She thinks the city seems more interested in saving the river than peoples’ lives. “Most people in my community will be upset that the Styrofoam containers will no longer be in use and might even complain,” said longtime Ward 8 activist, Sandra Seegars. “It is important that we educate residents that healthy people and an environment are more important than convenience.”