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Putnam County Bans Polystyrene In Its Government Facilities

Joefaust, Wikimedia Commons

A ban on plastic foam for government facilities in New York’s Putnam County takes effect in a few months. Environmentalists are applauding, but a trade association expresses disappointment.

The Putnam County Legislature has unanimously approved a ban on the use of polystyrene, or plastic foam, for all food service establishments serving county government facilities. Polystyrene is commonly referred to as Styrofoam, a trademarked brand. County Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra of Garrison chairs the Health, Social, Educational & Environmental Committee and spearheaded the resolution.

“It never goes away. A Styrofoam cup has a useful life of 10 minutes and it’s in our environment for hundreds of years,” says Scuccimarra. “So let’s wake up and start thinking about what we’re using every day that is detrimental to our environment.”

She says in putting together her resolution, which she worked on for a year, she turned to other counties and states, including New York City and Albany County, which enacted a polystyrene ban for certain restaurants in late 2013. Scuccimarra says she started taking a closer look at such a resolution after attending a program from the county’s Office of Senior Resources.

“And the amount of Styrofoam they were using is like, Styrofoam cups, Styrofoam trays, Styrofoam plates, Styrofoam bowls,” says Scuccimarra. “And then after the event was done they were all in the trash. It’s like, what are we doing here?”

She says other county facilities that are part of the ban include the jail and the Mahopac Golf Course. And she hopes to lead by example.

“Right now we’re limited to county facilities, but I’m making a plea to each municipality in Putnam to follow our lead and also ban this substance,” says Scuccimarra.

Peter Iwanowicz is executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York.

“I think it’s another important step towards the pathway of getting rid of Styrofoam/foam altogether in New York State, the less the better. And Putnam County sort of putting a standard in place where government agencies under the county will be getting rid of it is a good step in the right direction,” says Iwanowicz. “We’ve seen other actions up and down the Hudson River Valley, in Albany and New York City, and other towns in Westchester that are moving in this direction. And it’s all good news for us.”

It’s not good news for the American Chemistry Council, which had sent a representative to a Putnam County legislature meeting to lobby against the ban. A spokesman for the council, in an emailed statement, says, “We are disappointed Putnam County will no longer use polystyrene foam foodservice products in county government facilities, even though the county has used polystyrene foam lunch trays and other products safely and economically for many years.”

Scuccimarra says there is a cost for replacing polystyrene products with paper, roughly $3,000.

“But when you look at what this substance does to our environment and to our health, what’s $3,000?” asks Scuccimarra.

Again, Iwanowicz.

“It takes up to 500 years for Styrofoam to break down. It causes huge problems with sewer systems and wastewater treatment plants. We’re already under tons of pressure to upgrade their systems and fix leaky pipes,” Iwanowicz says. “So removing Styrofoam from the environment is a good step in the right direction. We really applaud what Putnam County has done.”

The statement from the American Chemistry Council also says that polystyrene recycling is a success story, with 68 communities in California accepting polystyrene foodservice for recycling, and that more cities should follow suit, like Yonkers has.  The Putnam County ban goes into effect June 1. Meanwhile, Hastings-on-Hudson became the first Westchester municipality to ban polystyrene, effective January 1.

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