Cuomo pushing for a ban on plastic foam food containers

Andrew Cuomo

ALBANY — Revealing a plank in his 2020 environmental agenda, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday began a push for a statewide ban on single-use polystyrene foam containers and packing peanuts.

Cuomo said his proposed ban on the products, best known by the trade name Styrofoam, would take effect in January 2022 and put the state on a path to a "greener, more sustainable future."

The legislation has not yet been filed.

Cuomo outlined the plan in a statement, noting the proposal would allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to restrict the use of other packaging materials as well once the agency makes a "finding of environmental impact."

The state's leading business lobby, the Business Council of New York State, is poised to fight Cuomo's proposal, Ken Pokalsky, the group's vice president, told CNHI.

"We have never liked state level or even sub-state level bans on materials that are broadly used in commerce," Pokalsky said. He also said there has been no scientific finding that the products Cuomo wants to ban pose health threats.

Further, Pokalsky said, the Business Council has significant reservations with regard to the "open-ended regulatory oversight" that the proposal would cede to the governor's environmental agency.

"We know the state has broader issues with regard to municipal waste management and recycling programs," he said. "But banning one particular product isn't going to solve the problems."

Egg cartons and packing containers for raw meat and fish made from polystyrene would be among products exempted from the proposed ban.

Environmental groups including New York Public Interest Research Group and Environmental Advocates welcomed the governor's proposal. But they urged that the legislation be fast-tracked to make the ban effective at the beginning of 2021.

Liz Moran of NYPIRG called polystyrene "a tremendous threat to human health" and noted it is a suspected carcinogen. "It contaminates the recycling waste stream and is an overall nuisance," Moran said.

The New York State Restaurant Association, an industry group with many members that rely on polystyrene products for take-out meals, voiced immediate concerns with the initiative.

"While we encourage sensible measures that are good for our environment, we must also be mindful of placing additional burdens on restaurants that already struggle to navigate all the government red tape associated with hundreds of regulations," the association said in a statement.

The group emphasized that containers customers bring from restaurants "must be safe and pose no contamination risk."

The governor's plan is an effort to build on the state ban on single-use plastic bags that will take effect across New York on March 1.

Maine and Maryland this year became the nation's first states to agree to bans on polystyrene containers, with those laws taking effect in the coming year.

Manufacturers of polystyrene foam are battling a similar proposed ban in New Jersey, contending the proposal would substitute one type of litter for another and suggesting a more coordinated effort is needed to improve recycling.

Cuomo's proposal was cheered by the director of Audubon New York, Ana Paula Tavares.

"Decreasing our reliance on single-use plastic will help reduce the amount of pollution in our oceans and waterways, helping to prevent accidental ingestion by coastal and marine birds," she said.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com.

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