Marian Chertow

Recent Articles

Changing the Waste Makers: Product Bans and the New Politics of Garbage

Local bans on environmentally harmful products might seem like a drop in a Styrofoam cup. They are having a surprise effect, however, on consumer product companies.

Thousands of solid waste bills were introduced in state and local legislatures last year. Their purposes ranged from promoting the use of recycled materials to authorizing disposal fees and requiring residents to sort their trash. A remarkable number, however, called for banning products and materials thought to harm the environment or to be overloading landfills and other waste management facilities. Portland, Oregon, for example, banned polystyrene foam (or "styrofoam") food containers and even has an enforcement agent known as the "styro cop." Maine banned "brickpack" juice containers; Vermont has been considering a ban on disposable diapers. Altogether, nearly thirty jurisdictions have now banned polystyrene foam or other plastic packaging, and hundreds more are considering laws of this sort. Product bans are emblematic of a new wave of activist political initiatives aimed at reducing the refuse of our civilization. They are a dramatic measure because they deny producers a market...