Illinois taking baby steps to eliminate plastic pollution

Baby steps are to be celebrated. At least they mark some sort of forward momentum. But in the case of efforts to remove polystyrene food containers from the waste stream, last month’s efforts by the General Assembly seem too feeble to warrant much applause.

Still, it’s something.

The House passed a bill seeking to prohibit state agencies from buying disposable food containers that are made with polystyrene foam (read: Styrofoam) starting in 2025. A year later, state agencies and vendors that sell food on state properties, such as state parks, no longer would be able to use plastic foam containers.

The Senate approved the measure without quibble in March, but the House couldn’t muster the same type of unified front. Its bill passed 36-20.

The bill needs a quick concurrence vote from the Senate, and then it’s off to Gov. JB Pritzker to be signed into law.

Democratic state Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, of Glenview, sponsored the bill.

“I believe this is an important step forward, and to do so at least with our state agencies who can take a leadership role in reducing the impact of the environmental impact of polystyrene foam,” Gong-Gershowitz said.

An important step, yes, but a small one, all things considered.

It’s a tip-of-the-iceberg solution. Food containers served at state facilities make up a small fraction of all of the fast food, carryout and doggie bag containers used in restaurants and food stands in Illinois.

Gong-Gershowitz landed a guppy, but the big fish got away.

She also championed a bill seeking to eradicate single-use plastic foam containers statewide – not just in sectors controlled by the state – but that idea flopped in the Senate.

Presuming there are no further hiccups, we hope the state can show good results on the ban of such containers on state property quickly, so more legislators will see the value of casting a wider net on the issue.

Time’s a wastin’, and that polystyrene isn’t going away.

Plastic bottles made of a different, yet highly recyclable plastic, are a much bigger problem planetwide, because so few of them are recycled.

There are gobs of it in plastic waste islands floating around our oceans.

But Styrofoam is difficult and expensive to bring back to its original state, so instead of recycling it, it’s either dumped in landfills or compressed into blocks.

With no hope of doing anything with it after it’s used, it is the easiest of our ecological scourges to target.

Of course, economics drives most of what we do.

Republican state Rep. Brad Halbrook was one who opposed the bill that is destined to become law, noting foam boxes “are very reasonable to buy. That’s why they’re used. You’re raising the cost of it.”

The same thing was said about transitioning to unleaded gasoline, but we all survived that.

Sometimes, things worth doing are worth paying for.

The Daily Herald

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