WESTCHESTER, N.Y. - A measure mostly banning expanded polystyrene in Westchester County won unanimous approval Monday, June 3, from the county’s Board of Legislators.
The change will take effect in January, giving restaurants six months to use up their current supplies and find alternatives.
Expanded polystyrene is a white, lightweight plastic foam that can be molded into coffee cups or packaging for food leftovers. Those uses, along with the sale of loose-fill packing foam, will no longer be allowed in Westchester.
Packaging for raw eggs and pre-packaged meat, however, is exempted. Styrofoam is also not covered by the law.
The bill was co-sponsored by County Legislator Kitley Covill, a Democrat whose district covers Bedford, Lewisboro, North Salem and a portion of Somers.
Covill said expanded polystyrene is bad for the environment because it is so difficult to dispose of.
“This material doesn’t biodegrade, so it clogs landfills for decades or more,” she said. “Once it is used for food, it is difficult to recycle economically. And when it breaks up into smaller pieces, it drifts off into our waterways, where it’s often eaten by marine life mistaking it for food.”
Polystyrene bans are sweeping the nation. The list includes Albany, Nassau and Suffolk counties, New York City, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and the entire state of Maine.
“I’m proud that now Westchester County will join our responsible neighbors in this kind of proper stewardship of our shared environment,” Covill said. “I hope this will be the first but not the last piece of legislation we’ll pass that will allow us to leave behind a safer, cleaner Westchester for our children and our children’s children.”
Food establishments nationwide have already started to move away from expanded polystyrene. Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, has pledged to eliminate its foam cups by 2020. A recyclable, double-walled paper cup will replace them. McDonald’s has also phased out the use of expanded polystyrene.
County Legislator Mike Kaplowitz, a Democrat who represents a portion of Yorktown, said the argument against banning it “wasn’t terribly compelling. In the end, there really wasn’t much opposition.”
“With alternatives out there, it just made sense to ban it,” Kaplowitz said. “We’ll miss our DD (Dunkin’ Donuts) cups for a while, but they’ll find alternatives.”
County Legislator John Testa, a Republican whose district also includes a portion of Yorktown, did not attend the vote due to the birth of his granddaughter, but said he supported the final draft of the bill.
As a former teacher of technology with a background in industrial plastics, Testa said, he helped fine-tune earlier drafts that had inconsistencies “that I felt needed to be clarified, especially to focus on foam only, not to include rigid polystyrene, such as utensils and other polystyrene products.”
Another hurdle was enforcement, Testa said. Ultimately, it was decided that the Westchester County Department of Health would enforce the ban.
“Once all these issues were worked out, I was in support,” Testa said. “Many businesses have voluntarily switched to paper-based containers already and there are a number of alternatives that can be used. So, the law should go a long way in protecting the environment without burdensome regulations on our local businesses.”