New York State is starting to understand why the plastic crisis matters. We are three months away from implementing the Plastic Bag ban. Governor Cuomo proposed expansion of the bottle bill in his 2019 State of the State address to include more beverages to improve plastic container recycling rates. In 2020, his address will propose a state-wide Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) food container ban.
As most of you know, in January, 2018, China placed a ban on the imports of plastic waste. Their “National Sword Campaign” has upended the global recycling industry. This affected our local municipal recycling programs, with many eliminating the collections of unmarketable #3-7 plastics. These are now being added to the 90% of plastics produced that are not being recycled.
Even though EPS foams add little to the weight of our trash (100 12oz cups weigh 1 pound), they make up about 30% by volume of the garbage that we landfill every year.
Expanded Polystyrene (commonly called Styrofoam) takeout cups and containers are a universally unrecyclable product due to the food contamination issue. Even virgin Styrofoam used in packaging is uneconomical to recycle as it is cheaper to produce from fossil fuels than to use recycled materials. Even though EPS foams add little to the weight of our trash (100 12oz cups weigh 1 pound), they make up about 30% by volume of the garbage that we landfill every year. And they do not degrade in a landfill setting. Add to this the health issues with the manufacture and use of EPS foams (styrene and benzene are known carcinogens), and you can see why the Governor feels that banning foam containers needs immediate attention.
There have been bans that have been proposed through most of the decade in the State Government. The bills gathered little interest, even with environmentalists, until this year when statewide bans were passed in Maine, Maryland and Vermont. But the focus of even these efforts came about when the foam container ban in New York City went into effect after a 3 ½ year legal battle. It also spurred the passage of similar legislation in Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties (joining Albany, Dutchess, Putnam and Ulster counties). The cities and counties with active Styrofoam bans entering 2020 constitute two-thirds of the New York population.
In 2016, Americans threw away 25 BILLION Expanded Polystyrene cups, enough to circle the earth 436 times.
Dow Chemical Corp. introduced Styrofoam products in the United States in 1954. In 2016, Americans threw away 25 BILLION Expanded Polystyrene cups, enough to circle the earth 436 times. Add in an equally staggering number of clam shell containers, trays to display grocery store meats, egg containers (not to mention the Styrofoam used in packaging). And remember, that unless it has been recycled or burned, that all of the petroleum-based plastics ever produced still exist today. This adds up to a mountain of trash that threatens to bury us.
The Governor’s proposal appears to mirror the Styrofoam ban in New York City which went into effect on January 1, 2019, and the proposal has earned praise from groups like the Sierra Club. But since the Governor’s proposal is not scheduled to be in effect until 2022, local communities (like the City of Buffalo and Village of East Aurora) should continue to work on their current local bans.
There is one other current legislative proposal that would be complementary to the Governor’s proposal. S06813/A08722 is an amendment to the Public Health Law proposed by Sen. Jen Metzger. It would require food service establishments to permit the use of reusable beverage and food containers provided by customers when requesting a beverage refill or requesting leftovers from a partially consumed meal to be packaged and post signs to inform customers that they are permitted to do so. Her research for this amendment has shown found that there are no state health laws against the practice of using refillable containers, and no reporting of any kind of cross-contamination or illness caused by someone using their own container for coffee or water.
Let your local and state representatives know that reducing plastic waste for public health and environmental concerns is important to you.
Bringing your own container and eliminating the need for Styrofoam (or any other single use plastic) in the first place is the best solution to slow down the mushroom cloud explosion of plastic waste. The next best solution is to let your local and state representatives know that reducing plastic waste for public health and environmental concerns is important to you.
If you would like to keep up with the progress of Styrofoam bans or other plastic waste issues statewide or around the world, I would recommend the following Facebook groups: Bring NYC’s Styrofoam Ban to My Hometown! and Beyond Plastics.