EDITORIAL: Polystyrene foam ban, taking effect Jan. 1, is long overdue

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

Bring your own cup.

And maybe your own Tupperware, too.

If your life revolves around getting takeout food in those lightweight polystyrene foam containers and drinking your hot double peppermint mocha latte from foam cups, your life is about to change.

Starting Saturday, the state is all but banning these types of containers in the latest effort to reduce pollution from materials that don’t readily break down in the environment and which are impractical or impossible to recycle.

The ban, which includes foam packing peanuts, is long-overdue, as the negative health and environmental impacts of this type of packaging have been known since the 1980s.

The chemicals and gases in these foam containers can affect the central nervous system, and styrene is considered a possible human carcinogen.

The material is highly impractical and uneconomical to recycle. Only about 1.3% of polystyrene was recycled in the U.S. in 2015. And because much of its bulk is air, it takes up a lot of space in recycling centers and landfills .

In the environment, big pieces break down into smaller pieces that are ingested by land animals and fish. When it does break down due to exposure to the elements, it does so into toxic compounds. And when it’s burned, it gives off harmful gases.

We don’t want this stuff in the environment, and the ban will make a big difference.

The state law that takes effect on New Year’s Day virtually mirrors a ban that took effect in New York City at the start of 2019.

It applies to businesses selling or distributing prepared food or beverages for on-premises or off-premises consumption. Nonprofits and certain small businesses can apply for a 12-month hardship exemption.

The ban doesn’t apply to those trays that raw meat, fish and poultry come in at the store.

Even though it’s another inconvenience for New Yorkers who already have to bring their own bags to the grocery store, the experience in New York City has been positive, with much less of the packaging blowing around streets, floating in streams and rivers, and clogging up landfills.

Take-out restaurants didn’t go bankrupt because of the ban, and New York City residents aren’t eating cold food because of it.

And there are plenty of alternative container materials, including aluminum, rigid plastics, paper, glass and bio-based (mushroom, peat, cardboard).

The new law will require some adjustment, just as the ban on many plastic bags did.

Environmental groups, for instance, are encouraging people to bring their own reusable coffee cups and to pack some hard plastic containers when they go to restaurants to bring home leftovers.

Overall, the benefits of this new law far outweigh the inconveniences. It’s another good law whose time has finally arrived.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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