On Friday afternoon, state Rep. Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, announced a bill to ban most single-use polystyrene foam at a press conference in Bandemer Park on the shore of the Huron River. Rabhi was joined by members of Environment Michigan, the state-level muscle of environmental advocacy group Environment America.
“Single-use polystyrene, as was stated, is such a scourge of our environment,” Rabhi said. “It impacts our waterways and it impacts the environments that we all love. We’re standing here on the banks of the Huron River in beautiful Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a gorgeous sunny day, and all around us there are people enjoying this beautiful asset in our community. The worst thing that could happen is if we continue to allow those polystyrene, single-use containers to be used and then not recycled and thrown into our waterways.”
Rabhi’s bill would ban the use of unenclosed polystyrene foam — commonly referred to as styrofoam — at the state level, with exceptions for medical, veterinary and research purposes. Small businesses could also be exempt from the law if the business can prove there are no reasonable alternatives.
This legislation is associated with a companion bill which would earmark revenue from violations of Rabhi’s bill to a state fund promoting clean water and mitigating plastic pollution. The companion bill is being introduced by state Rep. Jim Haadsma, D-Battle Creek, who Rabhi said was a leader on this issue, though meetings in his district kept him from attending the event.
Environment Michigan Director Nathan Murphy thanked Rabhi and Haadsma for their work and said single-use plastics like styrofoam are not worth the harm they cause to wildlife and water bodies.
“We need to ban single-use convenience plastics like styrofoam, which is one of the worst offenders,” Murphy said. “These bills will make a real difference for our waters and our water life.”
A study from the Rochester Institute of Technology found 22 million pounds of plastic debris enter the Great Lakes every year from the U.S. and Canada and plastic accounts for approximately 80 percent of the Great Lakes shorelines. RIT also found approximately 100 olympic-sized pools worth of plastic bottles are dumped into Lake Michigan every year.
If the legislation is passed, the state would join a growing number of places that have partially or completely banned styrofoam, including San Francisco, Washington D.C. and Portland.
Maine became the first state to ban styrofoam food containers in May, though the legislation does not go into effect until 2021. California, Hawaii and New York have all passed legislation making the use of plastic bags illegal.
LSA junior Maddie Mozina, Environment Michigan campus campaign director, said she has seen the effects of polystyrene pollution growing up near Lake Michigan. She said Michiganders have a heightened responsibility to protect water quality as 84 percent of North America’s freshwater is stored in the Great Lakes.
Mozina said Environment Michigan will be canvassing the state in support of these new bills. She said they expect to have 20,000 conversations with residents across the state this summer.
“Michiganders have a special love for their waters and we know we will see a lot of positive response when we are out in communities in Ann Arbor and across the state,” Mozina said. “With the Huron River running through Ann Arbor, the beautiful lake view from Grosse Pointe Shores, to the beaches of South Haven, our Michigan residents have seen plastic pollution first hand and how it affects the national areas they love, and we believe Michiganders are willing and ready to make a change in order to protect our environment.”
Rabhi noted polystyrene cannot be properly disposed of in curbside containers or recycling bins in Ann Arbor and must be brought to the city recycling center. He said this often leads to polystyrene ending up in the trash or waterways.
“Because polystyrene is so light, the wind takes it, blows it all over the place, ends up in our water, ends up in our trees, ends up in our backyards, and we don’t want that,” Rabhi said. “We want a state and a country that is free of pollution — that allows all Americans to enjoy the great outdoors, to enjoy our communities and to live a life free of pollution and impacts that come with things like polystyrene.”