Westchester Moves To Ban Polystyrene Takeout Containers

Jun 7, 2019

Another county in New York is close to banning Styrofoam packaging for takeout food. The Westchester Board of Legislators voted unanimously this week to regulate the use of polystyrene foam containers.

The measure will eliminate the sale or use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) coffee cups as well as other EPS containers and utensils commonly used for takeout and prepared foods, and for restaurant leftovers. Bill co-sponsor Kitley Covill brought evidence of polystyrene litter to the meeting, pointing to items such as foam packing peanuts she found around her in just a few minutes waiting to meet someone.

“And this is what I found: this and this and this and peanuts and broken little pieces of Styrofoam,” Covill says. “And they’re disgusting. And although we heard people say that they’re recyclable, people actually don’t recycle them. They throw them out of their car.”

Covill, a Democrat, represents some northern Westchester communities such as Bedford, Mount Kisco and North Salem.

“We are drowning in plastic,” says Covill. “And we seeing our, particularly our mammals wash up on the shore full of plastic.”

“We know that Styrofoam is a big source of neighborhood litter. It’s hazardous to marine life. It clouds our waste streams and pollutes our waterways,” Tighe says. “And we really have concerns about its impact on marine life and our beaches.”

That's Julie Tighe, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

“I think one of our priorities at the League is really looking at waste management in general and trying to reduce the amount of waste that we’re generating in the first place,” Tighe says. “Westchester, assuming that this becomes law, will be joining many other parts of New York, including New York City, Albany County, Nassau County and Suffolk County that have already banned its use, and many other cities across the country.”

The new measure prohibits EPS food containers to be used by vendors and restaurants, or sold in stores. It also prohibits the sale of loose-fill EPS packing foam in Westchester. Prepackaged food that arrives sealed in EPS packaging, as well as packaging for raw eggs and butcher case packaging are exempted. Kristin Andersen is a member of the Larchmont Environmental Committee. She thanked legislators for their legislation but had a request about that exemption ahead of the vote.

“California’s ban on expanded polystyrene does not exempt prepackaging. New York should not exempt expanded polystyrene either when it comes to packaging,” Andersen says. “Please pass the expanded polystyrene ban without a prepackaging exemption.”

She acknowledges there could be a cost to businesses for this, but it is a cost worth stemming pollution. Anne Jaffe Holmes, program director of the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County, says the legislation moves toward celebrating, honoring and valuing diversity among people and the natural world.

“And expanded polystyrene is one of those materials that when you watch a bird or a fish eat it, or you see it clogging up the waterways, you know you’re not honoring other species or the rest of the world,” Jaffe Holmes says.

Legislator Nancy Barr is one of the bill's co-sponsors and chair of the Board's Environment, Health and Energy Committee. She calls the measure a good first step.

“I hope that this is the first of many environmental resolutions and laws that we will be passing in this legislature,” Barr says.

Pat Buchanan is a member of the Climate Reality Project. Like Legislator Covill, Buchanan does her share of litter pickup.

“Where I live in the Croton Cortlandt community, we’re surrounded by water. We have the Hudson River, the Croton River and the reservoir. I spend a lot of my time among those waterways," says Buchanan. "I find Styrofoam and plastic in those waterways all the time. I ride my bike around that area; I stop and pick up the Styrofoam.”

Majority Whip MaryJane Shimsky:

“As stated by so many, expanded polystyrene really is a menace to the environment,” Shimsky says. “I’m glad that we are joining the many local and state governments in measures that we hope will be the first steps toward putting it on the road to extinction.”

Riverkeeper, which conducts an annual spring cleanup along the shorelines of the Hudson Valley and New York City, has frequently removed polystyrene and other plastic.