The Rhode Island Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller to ban restaurants from using polystyrene foam for food packaging or preparation, or from providing plastic stirrers to customers.
The legislation (2023-S 0014A) now moves to the House of Representatives, where House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston) is sponsoring companion legislation (2023-H 5090).
“Foam is one of the worst offenders when it comes to single-use food packaging. It is generally not recycled, and its light weight allows it to easily blow away when it becomes litter, harming our land and marine environments. Even though it is not biodegradable, it easily breaks apart into tiny pieces, and it can hurt or kill animals who mistake small, floating bits of it as food. Fortunately, today there are so many significantly better alternatives to foam. As the Ocean State, Rhode Island absolutely should be among the growing number of states and cities that are saying no to foam,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence).
The legislation would ban food service establishments from processing, preparing, selling or providing food or beverages in disposable food containers made in whole or in part of polystyrene foam, or from providing beverage stirrers made from plastic.
The bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2025, and would apply to only to restaurants and similar food service establishments, not agricultural fairs, farmers markets, hospitals, nursing homes, “Meals on Wheels”-type programs or charitable organizations that are providing food for free. It does not apply to packaging on prepackaged food items that a restaurant purchases at wholesale, nor to foam coolers or ice chests that are used for processing or shipping food.
Polystyrene foam has long been used for packaging because it is cheap to produce, lightweight to ship and effective at retaining both heat and cold. However, it is not often cost-effective to recycle, and endangers animals when it becomes litter.
“Pulling foam off the table will result in the industry replacing it with less-harmful alternatives, including those that are recyclable,” said Senator Miller, who is a restaurant owner. “With Rhode Island’s Central Landfill scheduled to reach its capacity by 2040, reducing disposable waste must be a priority for our state.”
If the legislation is enacted, Rhode Island would join Maine, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Colorado, Washington and Washington D.C. among jurisdictions that have passed laws banning foam food service containers.
The legislation is cosponsored in the Senate by Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, South Kingstown), Sen. Meghan E. Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, Providence), Sen. Victoria Gu (D-Dist. 38, Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown), Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Alana M. DiMario (D-Dist. 36, Narragansett, North Kingstown, New Shoreham) and Sen. Pamela J. Lauria (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence).
The Senate today also approved a separate measure sponsored by Senator Miller, a resolution (2023-S 0015A) requesting that the state Department of Administration undertake a review and analysis of state purchasing practices that support reducing carbon emissions and refuse by state agencies. The resolution asks that the state consider transitioning its vehicle fleet to alternative fueled models; using energy-efficient technologies at state properties to reduce energy consumption and emissions; phasing out disposable plastic water bottles by providing access to potable water and bottle filling stations; replacing plasticware with biodegradable cutlery, straws, drinkware and napkins at state facilities with dining accommodations; and providing composting for waste.
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