Photo via © BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons.

Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston) , chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee, has introduced legislation that would ban Rhode Island food service establishments from using disposable polystyrene foam containers and plastic stirrers.

The legislation (2019-H 6126), introduced Thursday, is aimed at eliminating waste that is generally not recycled in Rhode Island in favor of more environmentally friendly packaging.

“If we don’t drastically reduce waste in Rhode Island, the central landfill will reach its capacity in just 15 years. We simply have to stop making so much trash,” said Chairman Bennett in a press release provided by the Rhode Island General Assembly. “Single-use foam containers and plastic stirrers are low-hanging fruit in terms of wasteful things that we can easily live without. It’s 2019, and we have lots of alternatives to disposable foam, from paper and compostable containers to recyclable and reusable ones. Wooden stirrers work just as well as plastic, or — even better — you can put your cream and sugar in first and it’ll blend as you pour in the coffee, no stirrer needed. Let’s say no to this trash and yes to less waste in our environment.”

The chairman said his bill is inspired by the worldwide movement to eliminate disposable plastic straws, an effort that is the subject of a separate bill (2019-H 5314) he is also sponsoring. The bill is based on legislation signed into law in Maine last month, making that state the first to pass a statewide ban.

His legislation would apply to restaurants and any other establishment where prepared food is served, including farmers’ markets, food pantries and nursing homes, although the bill does include exceptions for hospitals and “Meals on Wheels”-type programs.

The bill, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2021, would prohibit such establishments from providing food in single-use containers and cups made in whole or in part of blown, expanded or extruded polystyrene foam, or from providing beverage stirrers made from plastic. The bill is intended to apply to items like takeout containers and cups as well as egg cartons and trays that hold items like meat.

Polystyrene foam has long been used for packaging because it is cheap to produce, lightweight to ship and effective at retaining both heat and cold. However, it is not often cost-effective to recycle and does not biodegrade. It also breaks apart easily and floats, which makes it dangerous to animals that mistake it for food.

Many establishments already have stopped using foam, and others are currently phasing it out. Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s both committed to eliminating its use.

Maine became the first state to ban polystyrene foam food containers when its governor signed the bill April 30. The measure takes effect in 2021. Maryland’s legislature has passed a ban although it is unclear whether its governor will sign it, and Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon are also weighing statewide bans. Many municipalities around the country, including New York City, have adopted local ordinances banning some or all types of polystyrene foam food packaging.


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