Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Wendy Koch, USA TODAY
Your coffee shop's cup of Joe may be getting a makeover as more U.S.
cities try to curb litter with bans or limits on foam cups and takeout
The campaign against polystyrene packaging, often
known by the brand Styrofoam, is strongest in California where 70
jurisdictions have approved restrictions -- 19 this year alone,
according to Clean Water Action, an environmental group advocating them.
The bans often apply to restaurants and others using disposable cups or
"This is catching on like a tidal wave," says Miriam
Gordon, the group's California director. At the urging of middle school
students, Los Angeles County, which runs the nation's second-largest
public school system, extended its 2010 ban on foam food containers in
county-owned buildings to its schools, which switched to compostable
paper lunch trays in August.
It's not just in California. The
dozen or so other U.S. cities with such bans, including Seattle and New
York's Glen Cove, expanded this year to include Massachusetts' Brookline
and Amherst. Next month, Boston City Council member Stephen Murphy says
the city will hold a hearing for a "thorough vetting" of his proposed
ban on foam food containers.
"It's a bad actor in the
environment," Gordon says of polystyrene, which is not biodegradable and
is rarely recycled. She says it's difficult to clean up, because it
breaks into little pieces and is so lightweight that it "gets blown
around by the wind" like plastic bags.
Studies show fish are
ingesting polystyrene, and the U.S. government's National Toxicology
Program said last year that styrene, the key ingredient, is "reasonably
anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
Not all anti-foam efforts
are succeeding. This year, a proposed statewide ban died in the
California Legislature, having faced opposition from the chemical
industry, and the GOP-led U.S. House of Representatives rejected a
Democratic proposal that would have prevented funding for foam food
"Once people see that the alternatives often have
higher (environmental) impacts, they look at the issue differently,"
says Keith Christman of the American Chemistry Council. He says paper
containers, which are heavier, require more resources to make and many
recyclers don't accept them because of their plastic coating.
no perfect cup today. It's all about trade-offs," says Scott Murphy of
Dunkin' Donuts. He says paper cups are made from a renewable resource
but cannot insulate hot beverages without the coating and often cost
more. He adds that foam cups are made from petroleum but since they're
94% air, take up little room in landfills when compressed.
says Dunkin' Donuts will experiment with a non-foam cup in the second
quarter of 2013. McDonald's, which phased out its foam burger box in
1990, began testing a double-thick paper cup in 2,000 restaurants this
year. Jamba Juice announced in August that it will complete its switch
from foam cups next year.
"We're seeing a trend toward coated
paper packaging," says Jim Hanna of Starbucks, which uses only paper
cups. He says his company is working with paper mills to increase the
recycling of its cups and aims to have recycling bins in all its stores
Paul Kalinka, whose online Change.org petition for
Dunkin' Donuts to kick its foam cup habit has drawn more than 120,000
signatures, is not waiting for corporate America to act. The Plymouth,
Mich., resident says he now uses a reusable cup for his caffeine fix.