If Governor Andrew Cuomo gets his way, there could be a statewide ban on single-use polystyrene foam food containers beginning in 2022. Cuomo’s 2020 State of the State includes a proposal to prohibit the distribution and use of polystyrene foam containers used by grocery stores, restaurants and other places where food is served. The ban would also apply to the sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging, also known as “packing peanuts.”
The plan would allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to take further action to ban packaging materials “upon a finding of environmental impact,” according to the governor’s office. The polystyrene foam food container ban wouldn’t apply to prepackaged food sold at food service establishments or packaging for uncooked eggs, fish and meat.
The move comes on the heels of a ban on foam that was implemented in New York City in 2019. With Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan food service establishments, stores, and manufacturers may not possess, sell, or offer for use single service Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam food service articles. “New York City’s ban on styrofoam is long overdue, and New Yorkers are ready to start using recyclable alternatives. There’s no reason to continue allowing this environmentally unfriendly substance to flood our streets, landfills, and waterways,” de Blasio noted when he signed the legislation.
A first-time New York State offender would pay a $250 fine. Fines would increase for repeat violators, from $500 for a second offense to $1,000 for a third-time offender and $2,000 for a fourth violation. The ban, if adopted by the state Legislature, would take effect Jan. 1, 2022.
“From take-out containers to packing peanuts, this material is everywhere and it will continue to pollute our waters and harm our wildlife for generations to come if we do not act,” Cuomo said. “With this proposal, we can build on our nation-leading initiatives to protect the environment and move New York another step closer to a greener, more sustainable future.”
Some municipalities in New York have either adopted or considered bans on single-use polystyrene foam containers. New York City implemented its prohibition in July. The Cayuga County Legislature recently held a hearing on banning polystyrene foam containers. The county hasn’t taken action on a local prohibition.
There have been concerns from businesses about the effects of a polystyrene foam ban. Some restaurant owners say it could increase costs, which could affect employment levels and prices.
Environmental groups and activists support a polystyrene foam ban. Cuomo noted that expanded polystyrene foam is one of the top contributors to litter. The U.S. produces more than 3 million tons of polystyrene, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates.
There are also concerns about the health effects of styrene. The National Toxicology Program found that styrene is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Cuomo’s proposal would ban an “antiquated and environmentally harmful product” in NY.
“Styrofoam packaging is one used for a short time, but can wreak havoc on our environment for generations — littering open spaces, polluting waterways and harming wildlife,” Esposito said. “Styrofoam doesn’t biodegrade; instead it breaks into small pieces and eventually becomes microplastic pollution in our waterways.”
Cuomo’s proposal follows action taken earlier this year to ban single-use plastic bags in New York. The plastic bag ban will take effect in March. Cities and counties have the option of charging a five-cent fee for paper bags.