HARTFORD – The Environment Committee advanced legislation Friday that would ban the use of expanded polystyrene.
The committee voted 20-8 to send the bill to the Senate for further consideration.
The bill aims to ban single-use containers made of expanded polystyrene by schools, restaurants, and caterers.
Inexpensive expanded polystyrene is favored by manufacturers for use in hot beverage cups, insulation, packaging, and school lunch trays, among other products. Its thermal insulation and moisture-resistant properties make it ideal for packaging cooked food as well as other perishable items, according to a report on the material.
However, the use of expanded polystyrene in Connecticut’s school’s and restaurants has become a contentious topic in recent years after research on its toxicity and potential health concerns has become more widely understood.
Expanded polystyrene contains styrene, a possible neurotoxin and probable carcinogen, according to a report submitted as testimony by the Sierra Club in West Hartford.
The legislation would also require each school district, regional school district, regional vocational-technical schools, and state college to develop a plan for discontinuing the use of trays made from expanded polystyrene by July 2021.
The Environment Committee amended the bill Friday to reduce the fines, starting with a warning and going up to a $1,000 fine for the fourth violation. The amendment also limited the violations to one per day for businesses.
“It’s a big change for us here in Connecticut and I think it’s going to take a bit of time for our businesses to get used to this,” Rep. Dorinda Borer, D-West Haven, said.
The success of Friday’s vote is not to say that some committee members were without concern.
Rep. David T. Wilson, R-Litchfield, raised concerns about how a ban on expanded polystyrene would affect business owners who were already heavily invested in the product.
“If I’m a wholesaler of this product and happen to have a warehouse full of it, how am I ever going to recoup my investment on this product without being able to sell to end-users like a restaurant or caterer?” Wilson said.
Rep. Ben McGorty, R-Shelton, was also concerned over the cost-impact of existing stock and applied it to Connecticut’s schools.
“The product that schools have in stockrooms, at the end when this becomes law, what do they do with that? Are we just going to burn or landfill it? What do we do with that product left on shelves?”
Although in support of its passage, Rep. Stephen G. Harding, R-Brookfield, agreed that the committee needed to honestly consider the bill’s potential impact on businesses.
“We need to be cognizant that there are a lot of small businesses in the state that are struggling and the more regulations and fines you place on these businesses the harder it is for them to operate,” Harding said.
However, Harding said he believes the bill’s environmental impact ultimately outweighs its potential financial impact to business.
Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, agreed with Harding’s sentiment although she is also owner of a bagel shop in Madison. Cohen stated that it might be helpful to provide a “‘hardship waiver” provided to some smaller businesses to help them with the initial transition.
“Ultimately environmental concerns weigh heavily,” Cohen said in her support of the bill’s passage.
Prioritizing Connecticut’s environmental needs also resonated with Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester.
“Remember always that personal health and environmental health are inextricably linked,” Palm said.
Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, opposed passage based on his understanding of how expanded polystyrene was composed in relation to its potential replacements. Referencing testimony provided earlier this month, Dubitsky stated that he believed expanded polystyrene used less of the harmful neurotoxins.