The East Hampton Town Board is considering legislation that would ban the use of polystyrene food containers, more commonly known by its most popular producer, “Styrofoam.” The ban, which would be similar to an East Hampton Village law that went into effect on August 1, would apply to most polystyrene food containers, including beverage cups.
The move is not unprecedented, but is trending in municipalities across the country. New York City adopted a polystyrene ban in January. This week, the city of San Diego narrowly passed a similar law, joining dozens of other cities in California. A number of Florida cities, including Bal Harbour and Coral Gables, also have bans in place, with various other polystyrene bans on packing materials and food containers also in place at cities in several other states throughout the country.
Polystyrene foam is a petroleum-based plastic made from styrene monomer. “Styrene has been identified as a potential carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research of Cancer,” said East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who introduced the framework for the ban at the board’s work session on Tuesday, October 16. The Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and OSHA all have set standards for styrene exposure levels, she noted. In addition to potential public health impacts, its lifespan — like most plastic — is seemingly infinite.
“As an aside, if you talk to our sanitation department, what you see in Styrofoam — that is the only product it will ever be,” said Ms. Overby. “We cannot make it into anything else, we can’t recycle it and it is poorly biodegradable.”
Most Styrofoam in landfills today, she said, will likely be there 500 years from now, if not longer. “Anything that is plastic that was ever made on the planet is still on the planet,” said Ms. Overby. “That is decades of plastic we still have to sift through in our lifetimes.”
The ban would apply to single-use Styrofoam. Restaurants, food stores and trucks would be prohibited from using the material, and stores would also be prevented from producing or selling polystyrene packaging, including Styrofoam beverage coolers. The ban would not apply to the polystyrene used by grocery stores or butchers for the sale of meat, or the polystyrene containing food that has already been filled and sealed by manufacturers outside of the town selling to local businesses.
Once introduced, the law would be subject to a public hearing before the town board could consider adopting the ban. According to Ms. Overby, the ban already has the support of the town’s Recycling and Litter Committee, but still needs to be reviewed by the business community before the board considers formally introducing the measure as a new law.
On Tuesday, Councilperson Kathee Burke-Gonzalez said the East Hampton Senior Center would stop using polystyrene containers. She also wondered what impact the ban would have on local school districts, although Ms. Overby said it was doubtful school districts would have to comply with the law. All board members agreed it would be worthwhile to talk to local businesses who use the product about what their existing stock was in order to come up with a fair date to implement the ban, ideally before the summer season.
“I think it is a worthwhile effort,” said Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “I know a lot of establishments within the town have already stopped the use of polystyrene. There are obviously a few that use it, but I think having those discussions with the business committee is important in terms of finding out what businesses are faced with in terms of the implementation date versus the amount of stock they have to move.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc said the legislation should come back to the board, during a work session, after it has received that input, before the board schedules a public hearing.