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State eyes prohibiting plastic foam

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed legislation to ban the use of polystyrene foam in disposable food containers throughout New York state. The announcement has garnered the praise of state environmental officials.

State Assemblyman Charles La-vine, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said that plastic foam presents a serious threat to the environment. “It cannot be recycled and it does not biodegrade on its own,” he said, “so it’s a constructive step in the right direction on the part of the governor, and I support it wholeheartedly.”

Plastic foam is often referred to generically, and inaccurately, as Styrofoam, which is a trademarked form of polystyrene used in insulation and boat construction. Plastic foam is reportedly one of the top 10 contributors to environmental litter. The Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that the U.S. produces roughly 3 million tons of polystyrene, which is non-biodegradable, every year. Containers made from it break down over time and enter waterways and wildlife areas as microplastic particles, polluting water and harming wildlife that ingest them.

Violators of the proposed ban would face a fine starting at $250. Second, third and fourth violations would be fined $500, $1,000 and $2,000 respectively.

“Styrofoam is one of the most common pollutants, and a public health hazard that impacts humans and the environment alike,” Cuomo said in a statement. “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.”

Lavine said he was optimistic about the legislation’s chances in Albany, adding that New York City’s ban on plastic foam, which took effect in July, has been successful.

State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Democrat from Northport, said the ban would be a step in the right direction, although it would take time and effort to make sure it succeeded. He said it would be important for public officials to work with restaurants on ways to eliminate the use of plastic foam containers. Although Gaughran is waiting to make his final decision on the bill until he sees what amendments may be attached, he said he supports the concept of the legislation.

“These materials that really can’t be successfully recycled just end up in landfills or incinerators and add to our global environmental problems,” Gaughran said. “I think what we can do as government is to reduce this type of waste.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who serves as chairman of the State Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, announced his support on Dec. 18 for the proposal. “I am confident the ban on Styrofoam would be welcomed by the Legislature, as we are all aware that we have a solid waste crisis and that Washington is doing very little to nothing about it,” Kaminsky said in a statement. “Following on our plastic bag ban from last year, it is important that we continue to make progress and move from a disposable and easy convenient society to one that focuses on sustainability and protecting our planet for the next generation.”

The proposed legislation would ban the distribution and use of plastic foam containers used by restaurants, caterers, food trucks, retail food stores, delis and grocery stores.

“At a time when our president is frustrating each and every meaningful effort to protect Mother Earth,” Lavine said, “I am very pleased that Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation to ban single-use Styrofoam containers.”