Albany County & Banning Styrofoam

Tom Ellis

ALBANY, NY The Albany County Legislature is considering legislation that would extend the ban on the use of one-time use (take-out) food and beverage polystyrene foam containers from restaurants and eateries with fifteen or more establishments in the US (enacted three years ago) to all restaurants and eateries in the county.

A public hearing was held on November 22 at which the polystyrene industry sent eight or nine representatives who spoke in opposition to the proposed law. Three others spoke in favor, another submitted a letter, and one woman had to depart for work before being called to speak. Fortunately only about ten of the 39 legislators attended the hearing (held on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving) and thus most did not hear the industry’s nonsense.

Industry reps said that polystyrene manufacturing jobs in New York will be in jeopardy if the legislation is enacted, no one has ever been made ill from drinking from a polystyrene cup, polystyrene recycling occurs in many places in the United States, and that supporters of the legislation confuse styrene and polystyrene. They said alternatives to polystyrene cost and weigh more, and are not recycled or composted in Albany County.

Two weeks later, at its December 5 monthly meeting, when nearly all legislators were present, no industry representatives showed up, but ten including David Carpenter, MD, Caitlin O’Brien of Environmental Advocates, and Paul Tick, spoke in support of the bill.

David Carpenter said there is no possibility of recycling food and polystyrene containers that contain food and beverage residues, plastics should not be microwaved, and one reason the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the NYS Health Department are not proactive in support of banning such containers is that they are very political institutions subject to pressure from corporate interests. I responded to industry comments made November 22 saying I will pay $100 to the first person who can prove that no person has ever been made sick by drinking from a polystyrene cup.

The legislature met again on December 19. Twelve spoke in favor of the bill, none against. Speakers noted that polystyrene containers are a ubiquitous litter problem on land, and, due to their light weight, are often visible floating in lakes and rivers. Such containers can leach toxic styrene and benzene into the foods and beverages. Recycling polystyrene (aka Styrofoam) is not practicable due to its being stained and that it easily breaks. Many alternatives exist that are fully and safely biodegradable or compostable, or reusable. Styrofoam containers are not recycled anywhere in the greater capital district. Polystyrene containers never fully biodegrade. One woman said all single-use plastic containers should be banned. A man said the Delmar Farmers Market fully supports the proposed ban and no polystyrene products are used in the Bethlehem school district.

The bill will likely be voted on in January or February. The legislature meets again on January 9 on the second floor of the Albany County Court House on Eagle Street in Albany. A public comment session begins at 6:30 p.m. Supporters of the bill plan to return until we are victorious. Please consider joining us


Published in January/February 2017 Newsletter
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