Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Michael Demicco, D-Farmington (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

HARTFORD, CT — A bill that prohibits a restaurant or caterer from providing or distributing single-use containers made of expanded polystyrene to consumers beginning July 1, 2021 passed the House with bipartisan support on Tuesday.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 121-to-23, now moves to the Senate.

CLICK TO VOTE ON HB 5384: An Act Requiring The Elimination Of Single Use Styrofoam Containers

Under the legislation, an owner or operator who violates the prohibition is subject to a fine of $250 for a first violation, $500 for a second violation, and $1,000 for any subsequent violation. A local health department or district or the departments of Consumer Protection (DCP), Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), or Public Health (DPH) may enforce the bill’s prohibition.

If it is enforced by a local health department or district, half of the fine must be remitted to the municipality where the violation occurred.

“We have been hearing a long time about the health risks styrofoam has to both humans and animals,” said Rep. Mike Demicco, D-Farmington, who co-chairs the Environment Committee where the bill originated.

“Single-use styrofoam containers can wind up in waterways and have a detrimental effect on fish and birds and others who ingest it,” Demicco said. “It’s legislation whose time has come. It’s the right thing to do.”

The goal of that bill is reduce litter in parks, waterways and urban centers, and also to create cost-savings in the recycling process.

Demicco said the original bill was “much more broad-based” but negotiations limited the styrofoam ban to only restaurants and caterers — and gave those entities 24 months to prepare for the change.

The lengthy two-year period to comply was intentional, said Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, “to give restaurants time to adapt.”

Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield, said he would support the bill, primarily because it is much more limited than the original proposal. But, he added, “I do have concerns,” about what the costs of switching from styrofoam would mean to “mom and pop restaurants and delis.”

“I do think the environmental aspect supersedes those concerns, but they are warranted,” he said.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo
Rep. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie photo)

Rep. David Rutigliano, R-Trumbull, who owns and operates several restaurants in Fairfield County, said that while he supports the bill, he doesn’t know if its totally necessary. Rutigliano said he stopped using styrofoam products — at a hefty cost — in his restaurants a year ago “because my customers demanded it and we thought it was the right thing to do.”

“Restaurants and other food service facilities are adapting themselves to the ever-changing needs of our customers,” Rutigliano said.

Several proponents made mention of the fact that Dunkin’ Donuts has pledged to replace all of its polystyrene foam cups with sustainably-sourced, double-walled paper cups by 2020.

It’s been 28 years since McDonald’s got rid of polystyrene packages for its burgers and sandwiches. Late last year, it eliminated all foam packaging.

Several other states have either adopted or in the process of considering adopting similar styrofoam bans.

Those opposed to the bill say they are primarily concerned about the additional cost of replacement products. But to that concern, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said that as more and more businesses switch to alternative products, the market will hopefully adjust, and prices for such products will subsequently drop.

The House vote on banning styrofoam comes as a bill that would ban the sale of single-use plastic bags starting in 2020 also awaits Senate action. More than 20 communities in Connecticut have passed local bans —  about half of which have taken place in recent months as the momentum to ban single-use plastic bags builds around the state.  The legislation takes note of that fact, stating that any town or city that has enacted a ban on its own should not have its law superseded by whatever final action the state takes.

Recently, supermarket chain Big Y, which has 30 stores in Connecticut, announced that it will phase out single-use plastic bags in its stores by next year. National chains Costco and Aldi, which both have stores in Connecticut, already do not provide free single-use plastic bags.

Gov. Ned Lamont has proposed a 10-cent tax on plastic bags, instead of calling for a ban. It’s unclear what that would mean to the communities that have already banned them.