Officials, Environmental Advocates Hail Westchester’s Polystyrene Ban

County lawmakers and supporters of the recently approved prohibition of polystyrene in Westchester called passage of the legislation a major victory the fight to preserve the environment on Wednesday.

County Legislator Kitley Covill holds up a small piece of polystyrene she found near her house in Katonah. The county recently approved banning the material, commonly used for food containers and for packing, which will be in effect by the end of the year.

Legislators Kitley Covill (D-Katonah) and Nancy Barr (D-Rye Brook), co-chairs of the Board of Legislators’ Environmental, Health and Energy Committee who co-sponsored the measure, gathered outside the Katonah Reading Room accompanied by County Executive George Latimer and various environmental advocates, saying that the new law is significant step in moving environmental protection forward.

Environmentalists have said that polystyrene is not recyclable and does not break down, therefore crowding landfills and polluting watercourses. It also contains known carcinogens.

“In the end, it’s really environmentally important to stop this particular product because the birds pick it up, the fish eat it, it gets into our waterways, it clogs storm drains,” Covill said. “There has been some conversation about it being recyclable but the technology is not there and in the end it’s better to not have this.”

The bill was unanimously approved by the Board of Legislators on June 3 and has been signed into law by Latimer. There is a six-month delay to allow for an adjustment period, so it will not go into effect until the end of the year.

Under the law, polystyrene will no longer be available for food establishments to pack food and for businesses or individuals to fill packages for shipping. There are several exemptions, including the use of egg cartons and to pack meat and other store and supermarket products, said Anne Jaffe Holmes, managing director of the Federated Conservationists of Westchester County.

It will also not mandate that shipments received from out of the county comply with the polystyrene ban, she said.

Holmes said there has not been much opposition in the Westchester business community, only from representatives of polystyrene manufacturers. Since none of those manufacturers are Westchester based, they  held little sway, she said.

Katonah Reading Room owner Peter Menzies said he and his wife have voluntarily used compostable food containers and utensils at their two establishments, the other one being Little Joe’s Coffee and Books, also in Katonah. He said he was pleased that the county is following the lead of other municipalities and counties throughout the United States, including Nassau and Suffolk counties, in banning the material.

“We made a commitment to minimize impact,” Menzies said. “We put a lot of care and thought into selecting the products that we use, everything from straws to cups to paper bags. Our philosophy is to minimize the produce that goes out the door so it stays out of landfills.”

Majority Leader Catherine Parker (D-Rye) said there previously hadn’t been the political support for the ban when it was first proposed about five years ago. However, it received bipartisan backing when it was put to a vote. She called it “a monumental day for Westchester.”

Barr thanked the lawmakers and the advocates for helping to make the ban a reality.

“Without their efforts, your efforts, we would not be able to do this type of legislation,” Barr said. “So I hope you will work with us for us to make Westchester a very environmentally friendly place.”

Menzies said that while the alternatives are more expensive – the containers he uses may be close to twice as costly, he said – there can be savings in other ways by cutting down on the number of napkins and plastic utensils given out. In fact, the Katonah Reading Room has an option for its patrons to request or decline the utensils and napkins when ordering through its online service, Menzies said.

“We do it because it’s good business sense and it’s great environmental sense, to minimize what we give to customers,” he said. “Make them ask for that instead of overloading them with all the extra napkins and straws.

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