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Albany County Bans Styrofoam Containers

WAMC photo by Dave Lucas

The effort to go green in one upstate New York county got a big boost today as groundbreaking legislation that will change the way many fast food chains distribute their products was signed.

Proclaiming the occasion "a great day for Albany County," County Executive Dan McCoy signed a Styrofoam ban into law at Bethlehem Town Hall. The ban passed the County Legislature in early November in a 24-12 vote and only applies to businesses with at least 15 locations nationally. But McCoy says the new law doesn't go far enough.  "We're gonna do everything in our power to reduce, re-use and recycle."

McCoy announced a trio of initiatives: He'll appoint a commission to find viable options to handling waste going into the county landfill in hopes of reducing the amount. An agricultural initiative will be dedicated to  setting conservation goals to preserve base farmland throughout the 562 square miles of Albany County.... and lastly, McCoy intends to put together a new county public service agency with a seven-member board empowered to tackle recycling and expand renewable energy options.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy signs the bill banning styrofoam producs.

The Styrofoam ban kicks in January 1st. Businesses have six months to implement the plan. McCoy says he's not done with the issue yet.  "We need to implement ALL stores in Albany County within three years. And I think three years is options that we can look at new recyclable, we can come up with other things to do and not just pick on chain stores."

Environmental advocates have long warned that Styrofoam containers will take 500 years to biodegrade. They’ll now focus their efforts on New York City, where officials are mulling over banning polystyrene cups and plates. While the measure was proposed under Mayor Bloomberg, Travis Proulx, communications director for Environmental Advocates of New York, believes Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will be right on board, because he has a history of supporting environmental measures. Proulx says many fast-food chains already are being proactive in replacing some plastic containers.  "In fact, many of these companies have started to already started to make the switch, because they know their product isn't good. It takes 15 minutes to eat something out of a plastic container – but it will outlive you by 500 years."

Opponents have argued that Styrofoam bans will be job-killers, especially in New York's Finger Lakes region.  Illinois-based manufacturer  Pactiv Corp. employs more than 800 people at its Canandaigua plant: officials told the Daily Messenger that  a citywide Styrofoam ban would cost New York City businesses, consumers and agencies at least an additional $91.3 million per year because they would be forced to switch to higher-cost alternatives.  Proulx says it just hasn't played out that way on the West Coast, in communities where similar types of bans have been enacted.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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