- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently proposed a statewide ban on single-use expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam products in his 2020 State of the State agenda. The goal is to pass legislation that would take effect by Jan. 1, 2022.
- The proposal would ban the distribution and use of EPS single-use food and beverage containers at restaurants, delis, caterers, food trucks, grocery stores and retail stores. Exemptions would be included for pre-packaged food sealed prior to arriving at a restaurant or food service establishment, as well as packaging for uncooked eggs, meat and fish.
- The ban also would cover loose fill EPS material, commonly known as packing peanuts. In addition it would give the state's Department of Environmental Conservation authority to limit or ban other packaging materials it finds to have an environmental impact in the future.
Cuomo introduced this proposal just months before the single-use plastic bag ban he signed into law this year takes effect statewide in March 2020. Both the bag and foam measures are intended to reduce litter and protect waterways and wildlife from plastic pollution.
New York City passed its own foam ban that went into effect in January 2019. After a six-month grace period, enforcement began on July 1 with fines that range from $250 to $1,000. The current state proposal would include fines ranging from $250 to $2,000 for repeat violators.
However, if New York City's EPS ban is any indication, a statewide ban might not be a slam dunk. City leaders worked for more than five years to implement the ban, but faced opposition and numerous legal battles. Some ban opponents advocated for an EPS recycling program because foam technically can be recycled. However, ban supporters contend that foam recycling is not practical or economically viable for residential collection because of high transportation costs for light material and how easily it breaks down into tiny plastic beads that cause contamination.
Some opponents said the city's ban burdens small businesses with higher costs for non-EPS packaging. Similar concerns have already been raised at the state level by groups such as the New York State Restaurant Association, according to the Buffalo News. Ban supporters note that cost-competitive container alternatives exist.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) supports the ban and suggests the long implementation period could ease the proposed ban's effect on small businesses.
"We want to ensure there is sufficient time for the food service establishments around the state to use up their existing stockpiles of containers," Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney and New York City environment director with NRDC, told Waste Dive.
NRDC will be among the advocacy groups working with state legislators, participating in public hearings, compiling further research on successful foam bans and collaborating with stakeholders across the state to promote the legislation.
"Polystyrene foam is a petroleum-based product that has been a first-class environmental nuisance across the country. While it's a small part of the overall waste problem, it contributes disproportionately to street litter and waterway pollution," Goldstein said. "This is the 21st century way of addressing waste problems."
Single-use foam bans are increasingly common at the local level, alongside policies on bags and straws, but have only recently begun to take hold at the state level. Maine became the first state to ban EPS containers in May. Maryland followed suit just days later. Vermont also banned certain expanded polystyrene products last year. A similar policy also advanced in Oregon, but was voted down in June. Cuomo's office claimed in a statement that New York's policy would be the "strongest" statewide ban in the country if passed.