Styrofoam Ban Passed by County Legislature

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styrofoam container in flowers

On August 13, 2018, the Albany County Legislature voted 23-13 in favor of Local Law L, which would establish a comprehensive ban on the use of disposable polystyrene (also known as Styrofoam) food containers for all restaurants. This would expand the 2013 partial ban for food service establishments with 15 or more locations. With Local Law L, every single eatery and restaurant that falls within the jurisdiction of the Albany County Board of Health, including county institutions, could no longer use Styrofoam for serving food.

After the legislature passed Local Law L with fewer than 24 votes, the law was in the hands of County Executive Dan McCoy, who could sign or veto the law within 30 days of it arriving on his desk. He indicated that he would sign it—if enough people let him know they support the ban. Meanwhile the plastics and chemical industries hired lobbyists to put pressure on him to veto the law. Over 1700 Albany County residents signed a petition to ban polystyrene and hundreds more emailed Dan McCoy to let him know they supported him signing Local Law L.

On Wednesday September 12, just after 10:30 am, County Executive McCoy signed the ban into law during a press conference with many hoots and happy clapping from an audience of legislators, County officials and the people who worked hard to help this law pass.

Why Ban Styrofoam?

Polystyrene does not biodegrade. We use it for 10 minutes and it lasts for hundreds of years, breaking down into tiny pieces that birds, fish and animals ingest. Styrofoam is 95% air and cannot be economically recycled. Even though it’s light, it takes up a lot of space in our landfills. According to estimates by the City of Albany, which has operated a regional landfill on Rapp Road for decades, polystyrene occupies 25-30% of landfill space by volume.

Plastic Planet

Plastic is polluting our rivers, lakes and oceans; harming wildlife and marine life. Plastic is entering our food chain and drinking water. In fact, according to a March 2018 study, researchers at SUNY Fredonia revealed that 93% of bottled drinking water contains microplastics – an average of 325 plastic particles per liter. Eleven percent of those microplastics are polystyrene. (See OrbMedia.org).

Riverkeeper identifies Styrofoam pieces as the most common pollutant in the Hudson River. According to the World Economic Forum there will be 1 pound of plastic for every 3 pounds of fish by 2025. By 2050 the oceans will have more plastic than fish unless we can turn our habits around.

Health Hazard

Styrene, the building block of Styrofoam, is classified as a “probable human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. According to the Report on Carcinogens, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2016, “Styrene is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”

A 1986 EPA report on solid waste named the polystyrene manufacturing process as the 5th largest creator of hazardous waste in the country. Plus there is evidence that polystyrene migrates into your food when the food packaged inside it is hot, fatty, acidic or alcoholic.

NYC’s Styrofoam Ban is Upheld

On June 5, 2018, the New York State Supreme Court upheld New York City’s (NYC) right to start its own polystyrene ban (including packing peanuts) this January. The judge’s decision stated that NYC had proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that recycling Styrofoam is not “economically feasible nor environmentally sound.”

While banning polystyrene food containers might not be the full solution to our plastic problem, it’s a definite step in the right direction. As Amy Riddell, proprietor of Emack & Bolio’s on Delaware Avenue, wrote in her e-mail to the County Executive Dan McCoy: “Our society knows how to engineer better products, and our restaurants must be part of this, for the health of our customers and ultimately, the entire planet. I support BANNING STYROFOAM!”

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Tina Lieberman is a licensed NYS teacher with a passion for nature and protecting our planet. She is Education Chair of the Sierra Club Hudson-Mohawk Group and a member of PAUSE/350.org. In May 2018, Tina was appointed by the Albany Common Council to the Albany City Sustainability Advisory Committee. Because of her work on the Styrofoam ban, she has become interested in tackling plastic pollution. She is one of the organizers of Zero Waste Capital District, a newly formed coalition of non-profit groups and individuals dedicated to helping residents become more aware of the importance of reducing and rethinking waste. Tina has been a member of HWFC since moving to the area 15 years ago.