A bill in the California Legislature would require fast food chains to use all compostable or recyclable packaging – and to make sure a good portion of that packaging is actually diverted from landfills and storm drains. It’s called the Fast Food Packaging and Marine Pollution Reduction Act.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, cites data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showing 1 million tons of takeout food packaging is generated in California every year, and most of it is landfilled or littered. Monitoring by the environmental group Clean Water Action has found about half of all street litter is linked directly to fast food chains.
So, there’s a pretty big chunk of the waste stream that could be reduced by cracking down on fast food packaging. Leno charges it also clogs storm drains, pollutes the ocean through stormwater runoff, and costs public money to clean up.
His bill would require fast food chains with 20 locations or more to use packaging materials that can be recycled or composted in each store’s local jurisdiction. The law would add a packaging recovery rate requirement of 25 percent by 2016, 50 percent by 2018, and 75 percent by 2020.
Imagine how much less trash there would be if 75 percent of all fast food packaging was recycled or composted. In California, it could be in the neighborhood of 750,000 tons less, if you crunch the EPA’s numbers.
The recovery rate requirements may be the key to actually reducing trash and marine pollution, seeing as a lot of fast food packaging – 85 percent according to a waste composition audit in Austin, Calif. – is already recyclable or compostable. But that doesn’t guarantee it will actually be recycled or composted.
The non-recyclable fast food waste included condiment packaging, film plastic, plastic silverware, straws and other miscellaneous plastics. So, that’s the stuff chain restaurants would likely be worried about if this bill passes.
Even though this is just a California phenomenon now, I wonder if it could bleed into other states because large fast food chains are so ubiquitous. But it could prove too costly and complex apply statewide; recycling and composting rules vary from place to place. The fast food chains would have to find packaging that meet all the different standards, which could be tricky for certain items.
The bill has support from the city and county of San Francisco and a long list of environmental groups, but there is a long list of opponents, too, including the American Chemistry Council, American Forest and Paper Association, the Biodegradable Products Institute, California Chamber of Commerce, Food Service Packaging Institute and the Western Plastics Association.
Do you think the bill has a chance? Would you vote for it?