Lodi's Dart Container plant is fighting to stay in business as a bill proposing to end or greatly restrict Styrofoam usage in California inches closer to being passed by state legislators.
The plant has been a major supply source for local and state distributors of plastic foam cups, plates and boxes since it opened in Lodi 28 years ago. It has also been a top job provider for the area.
But a bill proposed by State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, which aims to ban or restrict Styrofoam usage, could force the plant to shut its doors and put roughly 90 people out of work. Lowenthal could not be reached for comment.
The bill, SB 568, would prohibit food vendors, starting January 1, 2016, from serving prepared foods to customers in polystyrene foam food containers — also known as Styrofoam. But the bill does state that should a "verifiable" recycling program be put in place, school districts, cities and even counties could continue to use Styrofoam.
The bill is part of an ongoing effort by Lowenthal and others to improve California's waterways, storm drains and the conditions of marine life. Legislators in support of the bill believe Styrofoam can cause harm to marine animals that ingest the product or choke on it. They also believe plastic foam clogs waterways and drains, causing blockages to and from water sources throughout the state.
But legislators are targeting the wrong product, according to Ron Crookham, the plant's manager. Block molding — a packaging product that often breaks off into tiny bulbs that is not recyclable — is the culprit state legislators should be targeting.
"Styrofoam is not the problem — it breaks off in chunks and is 100 percent recyclable," he said. "When people litter and throw block molding into the water, the fish eat it. Styrofoam just floats. And those paper cups with wax coating? They aren't recyclable, but they sink to the bottom of a river or ocean so no one sees the damage."
While some state legislators see the extinction of Styrofoam as a good thing, Lodi residents fear the job losses resulting from a possible plant shutdown could seriously hurt the community.
In fact, should legislators outlaw the use of Styrofoam in California, it could wind up costing the state more money in the end because it could run more businesses out of the state, according to Pat Patrick, president and CEO of Lodi's Chamber of Commerce.
"We're all for changing people's negative behavior when it comes to disposing of trash, but let's not put people out of work, especially right now, just because some people just don't dispose properly of their trash. We're attacking this problem on the wrong end," Patrick said.
Currently, Dart Container supplies major companies both locally and nationally, including Walmart and Jamba Juice. In Lodi, stores and restaurants including Angelo's Mexican Restaurant on North School Street, De Vinci's Delicatessen & Catering on South Church Street, and Yen Ching Chinese Restaurant on West Kettleman Avenue all use Dart products.
"(Dart) containers hold the product the best and they are by far the most affordable for us," said Trevor Phillips, owner of De Vinci's. "As the owner of a small business, I tell you, every little penny counts."
Contact reporter Katie Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.