Operations

N.Y. plans to ban polystyrene restaurant containers

The law would also eliminate the use of foam-type drink cups as of 2022.
Photograph: Shutterstock

Polystyrene food containers and drink cups would be outlawed in New York state as of 2022 under a proposal that was previewed yesterday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The measure is believed to be the most stringent effort to date to eliminate use of the containers, which have long been favored by the restaurant industry because of their integrity, heat retention and relatively low price. But the packaging has been flagged as an environmental hazard because it does not decompose as other materials would. The administration says that polystyrene contributes significantly to roadside litter and often ends up in oceans, where it poses a hazard to wildlife.

Clamshells and other food containers made with polystyrene—commonly known as Styrofoam—are already illegal in New York City. Bans are also in place in a number of other U.S. cities.

A statewide ban goes into effect in Vermont on July 1 and in Maine on Jan. 1, 2021. Those states have a relatively small restaurant population. New York is the nation's fourth-largest restaurant market, behind California, Texas and Florida.

"Styrofoam is one of the most common pollutants and a public health hazard that impacts humans and the environment alike," Cuomo said in a statement.  "From take-out containers to packing peanuts, this material is everywhere, and it will continue to pollute our waters and harm our wildlife for generations to come if we do not act." 

His administration says the measure would be an extension of a pending statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. Retailers will be prohibited from providing the bags free of charge as of March.

The Democratic governor aired the plan to ban polystyrene’s use in most current applications as part of a preview of his State of the State Address, which he is scheduled to deliver Jan. 8.

The state legislature would need to approve the measure. Both the Assembly and Senate are controlled by Cuomo’s political party, making passage a near certainty. 

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