Legislators Leaning Toward Styrofoam Ban in All County Buildings

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A polystyrene ban in all Putnam County governmental facilities took possibly one of its final steps toward becoming a reality last Thursday, when legislators voiced support for the legislation after hearing from styrofoam lobbyists who were hoping to thwart the attempted local law.

During a lengthy Rules Committee meeting, legislators heard from advocates on both sides of the argument, especially a lengthy presentation from lobbyists hoping to sway an already resolved legislature to halt the brakes on a ban of polystyrene products within the county government.

“I think the health is more important than anything,” Legislator Barbara Scuccimarra said. “And the environment is an indication of our health so let’s keep it good.”

Approving the law would be a trademark piece of county legislation passed by Scuccimarra, who represents District 1 and has been advocating for the polystyrene ban for almost a year. The law would prohibit the use of polystyrene products in all county buildings, including the county office building and all senior center locations. Once current inventory runs out, the county would then transition to paper products.

Other legislators seemed favorable to the idea and most even committed to the ban before the presentation during last week’s committee meeting. No legislators spoke out against the proposed law during the discussion.

Legislator and vice-chairwoman Ginny Nacerino said she thinks it’s “good for Putnam County to lead by example” in voicing her support the ban.

One lobbyist to speak against the ban, Mike Levy, who is director for the plastics food service packaging group of the American Chemistry Council, said many of the health fears associated with polystyrene are unfounded. No person has been ever found to fall ill from polystyrene, Levy claimed, in the 50 years the product has been out there.

Levy also downplayed how alternative products are better than polystyrene. He said other substitute products used in other municipalities haven’t led to better environmental conditions.

“The idea that a biodegradable product would be better than a non-degradable product whether it’s polystyrene is not necessarily true,” Levy said.

Other lobbyists for polystyrene noted that it actually takes more than twice the energy to make a paper cup than it takes to make a foam cup, noting a foam cup is 95 percent air and 5 percent natural resources. A paper cup also contributes five times as much waste than foam.

“Foam often gets a bad rap but when you look at the actual science behind it head-to-head, it’s actually a better environmental choice,” Paul Poe of Dart Container Corp. said.

Dart Container Corp.’s Christine Cassidy said there are ways to recycle it, using the City of Yonkers as an example where residents drop off their styrofoam at the city’s recycling center and it is picked up by Dart Containers.

“So by banning just food service packaging you’re only getting rid of ten percent of the foam in the waste room where a recycling program, you’re able to capture 100 percent,” Cassidy said.

A few Putnam residents advocating for the ban spoke up during the meeting like

Mahopac resident Jerry Ranvitzky and Philipstown resident Paula Clair.

Also speaking was Putnam resident John Cronin, who is a senior fellow for environmental affairs at Pace University and has an extensive environmental background, said there is a “worldwide concern” about the abundance of plastic, including polystyrene in the environment. Styrofoam waste isn’t just the huge chunks that are seen, he said, but the little particles that go into different bodies of water like the Hudson River.

“I would hope the ban at the county government level would expand to the rest of the county,” Cronin said. “This is a national trend and a national trend for a very good reason.”

Following the meeting, Steve Rosario, a Putnam resident of the American Chemistry Council, who seemed resolved to the fact that the ban was set to go through, said he felt the county was “losing an opportunity” to recycle styrofoam responsibly and pointed out much of the complaints raised stem from problems caused by people.

“And how to be responsible with a product so it doesn’t end up in the litter, so it doesn’t end up in our waterways because it really is a behavioral problem,” he said. “If it’s in the water, it’s because some human did something that they shouldn’t have done.”

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