Styrofoam containers may cease to exist in Albany County, and on Monday night (Dec. 2) the floor of the Cahill Room (112 State St., Albany) was opened up to local residents and business people to plead cases for or against the potential ban. Chris Higgins, an Albany County legislator, joined others to urge county Executive Dan McCoy to sign the bill, which was originally passed by the legislature in November, into law.
“Our main point to these businesses is if you want to move along in a 21st-century division economy, then you need to adapt,” said Higgins.
The new law will prohibit food-chain establishments with at least 15 national locations from selling prepared food or drink in polystyrene foam containers. The ban was passed by the legislature by a 24-12 vote. It would require 25 votes to override McCoy’s veto, if he chooses to oppose the measure.
More than 50 speakers stood before legislators and the executive in the hopes of swaying McCoy’s decision. Although the majority of speakers were in favor of the ban, local food establishments such as Hannaford, Shoprite and the Food Industry Alliance were against the measure.
These food establishments suggested that the bill be amended to one requiring the recycling of polystyrene, which has been proven to be difficult and costly.
A polystyrene manufacturer based in Glen Falls, Genpac—a subsidiary of the Jim Pattison Group of Vancouver—stated its concern that the ban would harm their local business. Genpac argued that polystyrene food-service single-use items are not filling up landfills. Genpac’s research stated that according to EPA statistics, in 2009 plastic single-use, food-service items made up only 1.3 percent of the material headed to landfills.
They also said that single-use food-service items had significantly lower microbial levels when compared to similar reusable food-service items.
“You’re dealing with people who are interested in stretching the truth and putting misleading information out there. So it makes the ban look much more unfavorable to business,” said Higgins.
The ban was proposed by county Legislator Doug Bullock, who told the Times Union, “For now, we’re asking those who aren’t affected by this ban to voluntarily comply. This is really aimed at our fast-food, throwaway culture.”
Styrene, a main ingredient used to make Styrofoam, has been listed as a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Along with harmful carcinogens, many argue that Styrofoam is not easily recycled and is a big portion of trash pollution.
“It’s the bigger picture. It’s not only about the health of the people in this county, it’s about reducing the amount of this stuff that we put in the landfill,” said Higgins.
Bullock also said that forcing chains to buy alternative containers should lower the costs enough that small businesses could eventually make the switch without their business being harmed.
Though similar bans have been enforced in other locations such as Suffolk County, companies such as Dunkin’ Donuts that heavily rely on Styrofoam will need to quickly come up with an alternative option.
“We didn’t recycle glass, aluminum, or paper for the longest time until we realized it could be done, and it was a socially responsible thing we did for our environment,” said Higgins.
If the bill is signed into law, the Albany County Department of Health will be responsible for ensuring compliance from businesses. The ban would not go into effect for another six months.