Connecticut bill to ban foam takeout containers in 2023 advances [Hartford Courant]

March 15, 2021

From the Hartford Courant:

As many restaurants are still struggling and increasingly relying on foam containers to carry takeout food, a key legislative committee voted Friday to ban the containers starting in July 2023.

Democrats on the environment committee say the single-use containers are major polluters that should be banned because the products do not break down naturally, pollute the oceans and take up excessive space in landfills.

But Republicans expressed concern about the economic impact on restaurants and catering businesses — saying the measure needs to be delayed. 

More than 600 restaurants have closed during the ongoing pandemic, and others closed briefly in the winter as they prepare for outdoor dining in the coming weeks and months.

“We are really putting a burden on these restaurants a little too quickly in a pandemic,” said Rep. Stephen Harding of Brookfield, the ranking House Republican on the committee. “We don’t know when restaurants will be able to get back on their feet…particularly restaurants providing takeout. To do it now to our restaurants is not a prudent step to take.”

Harding offered an amendment to reject the prohibition of the clamshell-style containers that have become ubiquitous during the past year during the pandemic.

The amendment failed 19-11 on a party-line vote, and the overall bill also passed on a party-line vote.

The measure still requires approval by the full House of Representatives and Senate.

Sen. Christine Cohen of Guilford, a small business owner who co-chairs the committee, said legislators purposely pushed back the implementation date until July 2023 so that restaurants can “get back on their feet.”

The foam containers are “incredibly harmful to the environment” with no recycling options in Connecticut, and “it lives forever more,” Cohen said.

“Businesses are moving in this direction — trying to do the right thing. We are doing all we can to ensure that small business owners won’t deal with this for two-plus years.”

In obtaining her own takeout meals during the past year, Cohen said she has noticed that many restaurants have already decided “to move away from those products.

Democrats said that Connecticut is headed in the right direction because New York state will make the changeover in 2022

“You’re going to eat it in a half hour, and you’re using a product that will last years,” said Rep. Mary Mushinsky, a Wallingford Democrat.

Lawmakers clashed Friday over the controversial bill that would also ban foam trays in school cafeterias starting in July 2023 and direct restaurant owners to avoid distributing plastic drinking straws unless specifically asked by a customer.

An exception is that a person with a disability could receive a straw without requesting one.

Unlike previous proposals, the straws are not being banned.

School officials argued that forcing districts to eliminate foam trays and making them buy higher-priced alternatives will be a financially difficult mandate at a time when many school cafeterias are losing money because children are staying at home and engaging in online learning during the pandemic.

Overall, 85% of Connecticut school cafeteria operators in a recent survey said they expect to lose money this year.

The issues of waste and recycling have been heightened as officials debate Connecticut’s environmental future because Hartford’s trash-to-energy plant is projected to close in the summer of 2022, forcing garbage to be sent to out-of-state landfills in places like Ohio and Pennsylvania at a higher cost.

Sen. Craig Miner, a Litchfield Republican, said that butchers and those who supply raw meat to restaurants would not be impacted under a “carve out” to the bill.

“Styrofoam, imperfect as it may be…there is no doubt that it is quite perfect in maintaining temperature,” Miner said. “We should not imagine that the world in the next year or two is going to be back to normal in all cases.”

Timothy Phelan, the longtime president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, recently said the retailers favor more recycling but are asking legislators to drop the proposal entirely as some retailers are still struggling to keep their doors open.

Besides phasing out certain food containers, the multipronged bill would also “prohibit the intentional release of certain helium balloons and examine the compostable nature of certain single-use produce bags.”