Senate bill calls for banning single-use ‘styrofoam’ in schools and restaurants

HARTFORD, CT – If the state Senate-approved bill is approved by the state House of Representatives and signed into law this spring, it is possible that by July 1, 2024, some polystyrene products will be prohibited for use in Connecticut schools, universities and restaurants.

On Wednesday, Senate lawmakers voted to ban the use of many single-use expanded polystyrene products to help reduce the amount of non-recyclable materials that “contribute thousands of tons of waste to fill-in municipal landfills each year.” fast in Connecticut,” according to a press release from State Sen. Christine Cohen (D-Guilford).

“I’m thrilled that this important Senate chamber ban passed tonight,” Cohen said. “We have learned that not only is polystyrene harmful to our environment, but it has adverse effects on our health and safety. With so many alternatives on the market these days and many schools and restaurants are already choosing to offer these substitutes, it makes sense to apply this policy statewide.”

The SB 118 has four main components:

  • Connecticut public schools, regional school districts, regional vocational and technical schools, UConn, all four state universities, 12 community colleges, and Charter Oak State College must phase out the use of expanded polystyrene trays by July 1, 2024. Schools must end or modify any contracts to purchase these trays by July 1, 2023 and cease using the trays by July 1, 2024.
  • Restaurants and catering businesses are prohibited from supplying or distributing single-use expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers to customers as of July 1, 2024. Exempt from the ban are containers that are filled and sealed before being received by a restaurant or caterer that is sold to customers, or containers used by a butcher or shop to hold raw meat.
  • The owner or operator of a restaurant or caterer who violates the ban will receive a warning for a first violation, a fine of $200 for a second violation, a fine of $500 for a third violation and a fine $1,000 for a subsequent offence. Restaurants and caterers can only be issued one violation per day. The ban would be enforced by a local health department or health district, or by the state departments of public health, consumer protection, or energy and environmental protection.
  • By February 1, 2025, the DPH, DCP and DEEP must submit a report to the legislature on the application of the law and the need to establish a waiver waiver for any restaurant or caterer with demonstrated financial difficulties directly caused by the law.

At its February 25 public hearing, the polystyrene ban was supported by an 8:1 margin by Connecticut residents. Many have spoken of the non-recyclable and potentially hazardous nature of the material, which was invented in the 1940s at Dow’s Chemical Physics Laboratory.

The Earth Resource Foundation reported in 1986 – almost 40 years ago – that polystyrene manufacturers were the fifth largest producer of toxic waste in the world; the Green Dining Alliance estimates that 2.3 million tons of expanded polystyrene products end up in landfills every year, which is approximately 30% of all landfill space on the planet. In Connecticut, a 2015 report concluded that approximately 12,000 tons of food-grade expanded polystyrene – not including school waste – is thrown away in Connecticut trash cans each year.

A 2015 report found that approximately 12,000 tons of food-grade polystyrene, not even counting school trash, was thrown into Connecticut trash cans each year.

At the public hearing for the bill, Julie DesChamps of Waste Free Greenwich — part of a coalition of groups forming ReThink Disposable CT — said the group surveyed 31 Connecticut school districts in 2021. and had found that 80% of them had already switched from widening polystyrene trays to a safer, more environmentally friendly type of disposable or even reusable food service utensils.

Districts that have already abandoned polystyrene school food trays include New Canaan, Norwich, Wilton, Bristol, New Haven, Norwalk and Stamford.

Norman D. Briggs