A handful of communities have restricted a limited number of plastic foodservice products or where they can be used. These plans often were pushed through quickly and based on misunderstandings about biodegradability, landfills, recycling and the impact of alternatives (» learn more: Litter | Environment).
Perhaps the best way to weigh this issue is to check in with a community that restricted specific plastic foodservice products some years ago…
More than a decade and a half after the city of Portland, Oregon restricted polystyrene foam foodservice products at certain venues in 1990, the Cascades Policy Institute reviewed the effects. The Institute found:
“Alternatives to [polystyrene foam] foodservice containers actually carry more environmental impacts…At the same time, this law drives up costs to business and consumers and negatively affects the business environment in Portland. As a means of educating the public, the ban fails because it encourages the perpetuation of misunderstanding among the citizens of Portland.”
After reviewing the economic effects of the ban and enforcement, environmental myths and effects of the law and the reaction of the community, the Institute concluded: “Studying the true environmental effects of this law shows that due to the methods used to produce alternatives and their poor insulation qualities, the ban keeps one of the best environmental choices off the market.”
Attempting to prevent littering by restricting certain plastic foodservice products didn’t work in San Francisco—instead, it simply changed the type of litter. Again, substituting one type of litter for another is just not a smart strategy.