HARTFORD, CT — Reducing litter in parks, waterways and urban centers, and creating cost-savings in the municipal solid waste process are two benefits of a bill to ban single-use containers made of expanded polystyrene, according to proponents who spoke before the Environment Committee.
The proposed legislation would prohibit schools, restaurants or caterers from providing or distributing single-use containers made of expanded polystyrene to consumers.
The bill would also require each school district, regional school district, regional vocational technical school and college develop a plan for discontinuing the use of trays made from expanded polystyrene by July 1, 2021.
“It is difficult to go to any park, open space or beach in Connecticut and not see some polystyrene waste littering our environment,” Rep. Lucy Dathan, D-New Canaan, said. “Single-use polystyrene containers are filling up our landfills, harming our waterways, endangering animals and ecosystems. Polystyrene waste accounts for approximately 30% of the landfill waste in the U.S.”
Under the legislation, an owner or operator who violates the prohibition would be 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 a local health department or district enforces the violation, half of the fine would go back to the municipality.
Last year, the Senate passed a bill to ban the use of polystyrene trays in schools and colleges across the state. The House passed a bill that would have banned styrofoam containers at restaurants.
But neither bill passed the other chamber to get to the governor’s desk.
This year, the Environment Committee combined them into the one bill that received a public hearing Friday.
Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said she is hoping this is the year “to see the bill come to fruition.”
“Polystyrene leeches dangerous chemicals into our bodies and our environment,” Cohen said. “It is not recycled and worse, it’s getting incinerated at our trash plants or ends up forevermore in landfills.”
The focus on plastic containers comes after the legislature passed a law last year requiring retailers to collect a $0.10 fee per single-use plastic checkout bag. The argument to ban polystyrene is similar.
“Single-use expanded polystyrene containers fill up our landfills, endanger our wildlife and are easily replaced by biodegradable alternatives,” said Lori Brown, executive director of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.
“Polystyrene waste accounts for approximately 30% of landfill space in the U.S. Once thrown away, these containers sit in landfills for hundreds of years,” Brown testified. “Polystyrene that does not end up in landfills often litter and pollute our waterways, urban areas and parks.”
As was the case in the plastic bag ban — where many towns tired of waiting for state action and took ban votes themselves — the same events are playing out with polystyrene.
School districts such as Hamden, Middletown and Guilford have already adopted bans on polystyrene products.
“SB 99 would ensure that all school districts in Connecticut be held to this same standard of student safety and environmental responsibility,” Brown said. Brown noted that many large companies and cities also have instituted polystyrene bans.
DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said her agency supports the concept of the bill.
“This bill is consistent with the state’s statutorily required solid waste management plan designed to reduce waste disposal and, at the same time, support source reduction and recycling,” Dykes said in written testimony.
Dykes added: “The expanded polystyrene products covered by this bill are typically single-use products that cannot be recycled within the existing infrastructure in Connecticut and, therefore, simply end up in the trash for disposal. … We welcome the opportunity to work with the committee to address how to identify which substitute products are environmentally preferred to help decrease disposal and increase recycling.”
But opponents warn that the bill is another example of an unfunded mandate whose cost will be borne by taxpayers.
“School districts will have to increase meal prices or request additional support from taxpayers for food service operations,” according to written testimony submitted by the Connecticut Association of School Business Officials.
An alternative to styrofoam are paper trays, which cost three times as much and some are not durable enough for some uses, CASBO said.
“Reusable trays are another possibility, but many schools are not built to accommodate tray washing and such practice requires additional labor and utility costs,” CASBO said, adding that “[S]chools that have used reusable trays also found that students often threw them out and they were constantly replacing them. As a result, some switched back to styrofoam.”
The American Chemistry Council warned in written testimony, that a ban may not have the intended effect: “ACC strongly supports reduction in marine litter and waste, but this legislation will not accomplish that objective, because it fails to recognize that litter and improper waste management are independent of material type. New policies and practices should ensure that no waste, plastic or otherwise, ends up having a negative impact on the environment. A ban on the sale and use of polystyrene foam is unlikely to be effective in addressing litter.”
Cognizant of the potential for increased costs restaurants will bear, the bill includes a provision allowing for restaurants to submit a “hardship waiver.”
On the issue of cost, however, polystyrene presents a problem for municipal recyclers, according to Connecticut Program Director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment Louis Burch.
“EPS foam products cannot be easily recycled, and frequently end up being disposed of as municipal solid waste (MSW),” Burch said. “There are currently no Connecticut municipalities offering residential recycling programs for polystyrene waste. With cities and towns across Connecticut working to reduce MSW costs, EPS foam packaging has become an obvious choice for elimination from the waste stream,” said Burch.