Whaddya mean I can't take my container down the river?
Image: Flickr, michaelwhays
The web is abuzz with the newest plastic ban -- this one being mocked as an epic fail of the democratic organism. We got curious...and bring you the rest of the story.
The buzz started with an AP report under the headline Missouri bans wrong plastic from rivers. The article draws attention to Missouri Senate Bill Number 2, sponsored by Senator Delbert Scott. From the AP report: "Lawmakers intended to reduce floating debris and pollution from abandoned foam coolers in the state’s waterways. But they confused their plastics. Instead of banning Styrofoam, they criminalized the plastic containers found in many kitchens but seldom used to ferry beer and soda down a river."Delbert Scott Introduces a Simple Bill
Senate Bill No. 2, as introduced proposes to add a section 109 into Chapter 306 of the Missouri State Statutes, Watercraft Regulation and Licensing--State Water Patrol. The bill covers 5 points. The first three ban
- beer bongs,
- jello shots, and
- any alcohol container with a volume over one gallon.
Specifically, point four bans the distribution of mardi-gras beads "intended to cause behavior associated with, but not limited to, fighting, solicitation of nudity, obscene language or other lewd behavior." And point five bans a broad array of items, including "foam or Styrofoam, polypropylene, expanded polypropylene or polystyrene coolers." It specifically excluded high density bait containers, as long as they are used for bait.
Is This About the Environment?
Somehow a suspicion arises that this law is not about controlling plastic litter, but about preventing drunken brawls on the rivers of the "Show Me" State. A bit of sleuthing confirms the suspicion: Scott is selling Senate Bill 2 as a law about family-friendly rivers rather than eco-friendly picnicing. At least he cannot be accused of greenwashing.
So What Happened to Senate Bill Number 2?
As it turns out, the bill has not been passed. It appears the bill stalled after a hearing conducted in February by the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
What finally happened to Delbert Scott's bill simultaneously exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of democracy. Several of the provisions supported by Scott found purchase. They landed in the Senate Committee Substitute of House Bill 62, where they are treated--appropriately--as criminal issues rather than environmental issues.
House Bill 62 passed, and effective 28 August 2009, it is prohibited to have beer bongs or alcohol containers larger than four (!) gallons on the rivers of the state. Party beads and jello shots are still allowed, but basically the good people of Missouri can rest assured that officers of the State Water Patrol are not powerless in the case that Federal laws restricting fun drive partyers onto state rivers.
Plastic is a Crime
That is where democracy hiccups, however. House Bill 62 removed the references to expanded foam and Styrofoam -- a brand name -- in favor of banning "expanded polypropylene coolers," except in "developed campgrounds, picnic areas, landings, roads and parking lots." (Bait containers are still OK too!) Anyone in possession of an expanded polypropylene cooler without bait in it outside of the approved developed areas is guilty of a class A misdemeanor. That puts it in a class with third-degree assault on an officer of the law or receiving stolen property worth less than $500.
Expanded polystyrene is used in automotive applications. You might know it from hobby airplanes, where it is favored due to its ability to absorb impact but retain its shape. So Missouri did NOT ban tupperware (kitty is happy). And Missouri did not ban expanded polystryrene coolers (partyers are happy). Protecting the environment will have to wait for another day.