Illustration by Amanda Alten

In Santa Cruz, environmentalism and socially conscious behavior is a cultural norm. This is a California ideal that transcends politics or money — or at least it should. Young adults are driving less, groups are advocating to end plastic bag use, and people are lobbying and fighting for cleaner energy.

So it should come as no surprise that Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley, Watsonville and other Bay Area, Lower Bay and Central Coast cities are looking to implement — or in the case of Santa Cruz, further the reach of — Styrofoam bans. Styrofoam is a detriment to our local ecology and, like plastic, it doesn’t break down — it isn’t biodegradable and it clogs landfills.

However, there is no statewide bill anywhere in the United States that bans the use of Styrofoam in restaurant to-go containers. California legislation may be the first to do just that.

But as California cities gear up to take on the most restrictive ban on Styrofoam, local politicians throughout the Bay Area and Central Coast are lining their pockets with donations from Dart Container in Michigan, one of the largest foam cup and container manufacturers in the country.

Bill Monning of Carmel and Luis Alejo of Watsonville were two of several California Democrats to take donations from Dart Containers — and, more pointedly, Monning’s Senate campaign directly benefited from Dart’s contribution.

Without a doubt, Dart’s monetary donations are a classic, tried and true example of political lobbying. Lobbyists operate under the assumption that “you scratch our back and we’ll scratch yours” — they hand over a generous donation in the hopes of being rewarded with a vote that aligns with their interests. In Dart’s case, political donations totaled $155,000, $59,500 of which went to Democratic politicians and another $35,000 went to the Democratic State Central Committee.

How can we expect our representatives to truly advocate for us when they’re being lobbied — and bought — by the very companies that would suffer from a Styrofoam ban?

We can call our representatives and we can, of course, become amateur lobbyists ourselves. But what we would rather see is politicians serving the needs of their communities rather than those of donors.

The residents of Santa Cruz have made their opinions known and have advocated for a more environmentally conscious community. There are organizations and individuals in this city working tirelessly to lessen our carbon footprint. Our representatives should take this with them to the legislature and they should echo the goals their communities are working on the ground to accomplish.

If moral consciousness and political righteousness aren’t enough to sway our representatives, then we must appeal to survival. Sustainability and environmentally sound living practices are a necessity if we are to continue thriving on this planet. The green movement isn’t only about urban gardens and recycling plastic bottles — it’s about understanding the effects our behaviors have on our communities, ecology and society.

The continued use and production of Styrofoam products completely negate environmentally sustainable habits. Our politicians must recognize this and they must not be blinded by the greenbacks so generously thrown their way.