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Capital Region News

Albany County Legislature Holding Public Hearing Tonight On Proposed Polystyrene Ban

Under the measure, styrofoam cups, plates and containers would be banned citywide.
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The Albany County Legislature is holding a public hearing tonight on whether or not to ban polystyrene packaging.

There's a movement in Albany County to extend the existing ban on polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam. Although County Executive Dan McCoy signed a Styrofoam ban into law in December 2013, it came with restrictions and only applied to businesses with at least 15 locations nationally.

New legislation would ban styrofoam containers of all kinds. Former Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Judith Enck, an on-air contributor on WAMC, will be at tonight's meeting to testify in support of the bill:   "Polystyrene is brittle, and it breaks into smaller pieces of litter and it does not biodegrade. And even though it has the misleading plastic recycling arrow on it as a number 6 recycling plastic, it's a recycling failure. Virtually no polystyrene is recycled. And there are better alternatives. We can shift to reusable products. We could also if if people won't bring their own containers to a store, the store, the restaurant, can purchase plant-based biodegradable packaging that's not made from petroleum and not made from chemicals and not going to linger on the land or in the ocean for literally centuries."

Republican County Legislature Minority Leader Frank Mauriello says styrofoam actually takes up less space in landfills than thicker paper products.   "Right now, if you go to a Dunkin' Donuts to purchase coffee, you'll be purchasing your coffee in a paper cup and not a Styrofoam cup. People don't realize that those paper cups are lined with plastic, and recyclers don't like to recycle those cups. Very difficult to pull the pulp from the plastic lining of that cup. So they prefer you just throw it away."

Mauriello says Styrofoam is more economical and efficient at keeping food warm or cold.  "Back in 2009, San Francisco banned the use of polystyrene cups and plates and such. One of the reasons they did that was because they felt it was polluting the landscape. So, a year later, after they banned the products, they went back and they looked and they found that instead of styrofoam cups and plates polluting the landscape, now you had paper cups and plates. So it wasn't the polystyrene that was the issue, it was the habits of polluters. Just tossing your cups on the ground."

In March 2017, county legislators voted down a similar proposal to that would have prohibited all restaurants from using Styrofoam containers.  Again, Judith Enck:   "I think it's especially important for Albany County to act because a lot of polystyrene can get into the Hudson River, which flows south and eventually makes its way into the ocean."

The public is invited to weigh in at 7p.m. at the Albany County Courthouse on Eagle Street. Mauriello says the Legislature could vote on the measure as early as at its next meeting August 13th.

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