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Styrofoam Ban Is Coming In NY. Here Is What You Need To Know

Getting food “to-go” will have a different look and feel in the new year.

Starting Jan. 1, the distribution and sale of polystyrene foam products will be prohibited in New York state. That means you won’t be able to purchase disposable Styrofoam plates and cups for an event, and the classic clamshell container often used for takeout will be no more.

The ban also prohibits the manufacturing and selling of packing peanuts, the loose fill packaging made of the same material.

There are exceptions. Containers used for raw meat and items sealed before being delivered to the restaurants will be allowed.

The law does not apply to cities with a population of 1 million or more that already have a ban in place, and that includes New York City.

Tina Stevens, waste diversion and education coordinator for Monroe County, said with the exception of clean polystyrene used for packing, the county’s curbside recycling has never accepted Styrofoam.

“We have never accepted trays and cups and plates and all those kinds of things. That’s what this ban is about,” said Stevens.

Stevens said going away from Styrofoam is a huge purchasing decision for large organizations like schools and hospitals.

“They have to go away from Styrofoam to go to something reusable,” said Stevens. “I’m old enough to remember when schools had dishwashers. So, if they decide to go back to that route, it’s a huge capital investment. It’s also an investment in labor.”

She commends local grocery stores Wegmans, Aldi and Tops that have already made the switch ahead of the deadline.

“Egg cartons were a huge thing. And they have now gone back to the cardboard, which is totally and completely recyclable curbside,” said Stevens.

She said the changes probably won’t hurt larger organizations, but some of the smaller nonprofit organizations may struggle and eventually will have to invest in alternatives.

“You can’t even buy it in New York anymore after January so they will catch up one way or the other,” Stevens said.

Stevens added the ban will likely affect restaurants, particularly those with a carryout portion of its business.

Tony Wu is the owner of Han Noodle Bar, one of many local restaurants that use clamshell containers for carry-out and delivery.

Wu said carry-out accounts for 70% of his business. He said the transition away from Styrofoam is necessary, but supply chain issues make it difficult for businesses like his to access alternatives.

“Everybody wants to do the great thing for Mother Nature, but this is the worst time,” Wu said.

Wu said the transition will also be costly, and customers should expect to pay more for takeout.

“Instead of 2-3 cents a package, now we pay 30-40 cents. Small businesses cannot eat that,” said Wu. “We’re not McDonald’s, we can’t sell a burger for cheap.”

He said he is still deciding on a replacement container but they are considering using hard plastic.

Food service providers that meet specific criteria can apply for a 12-month renewable financial hardship waiver.

Violators will be fined $250 for the first offense and will be fined double for every additional offense.

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