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CT Senate passes bill that bans single-use Styrofoam and trays in schools and restaurants

Sen. Christine Cohen.
Sen. Christine Cohen.(CT Democrats)
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 8:22 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 8:23 AM EDT
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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) - Connecticut’s Senate voted to ban the use of many single-use polystyrene, or Styrofoam, products from schools, universities and restaurants.

The bill would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

The Senate voted on the measure Wednesday.

Lawmakers said the goal of the bill is to significantly reduce the amount non-recyclable material that contributes thousands of tons of waste every year to Connecticut’s rapidly filling municipal landfills.

Sen. Christine Cohen, a Democrat who represents Guilford and is chair of the Environment Committee, led the debate and passage of Senate Bill 118, which passed on a 23-11 vote. The measure heads to the state House of Representatives for consideration before the legislature adjourns for the year on May 4.

“I am thrilled with the passage of this important ban out of the Senate chamber this evening,” Cohen said. “We have learned that not only is polystyrene harmful to our environment, but it has detrimental impacts to our health and safety. With so many alternatives on the market these days and many schools and restaurants already choosing to offer those substitutes, it makes sense to make this policy statewide.”

The bill has four main components:

  • Connecticut’s public schools, regional school districts, regional vocational-technical schools, UConn, all four state universities, 12 community colleges and Charter Oak State College must phase-out the use of expanded polystyrene trays by July 1, 2024. Schools have to end or amend any purchasing contracts for such trays by July 1, 2023 and discontinue use of the trays by July 1, 2024.
  • Restaurants and catering businesses are prohibited from providing or distributing single-use expanded polystyrene food and beverage containers to customers beginning July 1, 2024. Exempted from the ban are containers that are filled and sealed before being received by a restaurant or caterer that are sold to customers, or containers used by a butcher or store to hold raw meat.
  • The owner or operator of a restaurant or caterer who  violates the ban will receive a warning for a first violation, a $200 fine for a second violation, a $500 fine for a third violation, and a $1,000 fine for a subsequent violation. Restaurants and caterers can only be issued one violation per day. The ban would be enforced by a local health department or health district, or by the state departments of Public Health, Consumer Protection or the Energy and Environmental Protection.
  • By Feb. 1, 2025, the DPH, DCP, and DEEP must submit a report to the legislature on the law’s enforcement and the need to establish a hardship waiver for any restaurant or caterer with a demonstrated financial hardship directly caused by the law.

At its Feb. 25 public hearing, the polystyrene ban was supported by an 8 to 1 margin by Connecticut residents, according to lawmakers. Many of them spoke of the non-recyclable nature and potentially hazardous nature of the material, which was invented in the 1940s at Dow’s Chemical Physics Lab.

Lawmakers pointed to an Earth Resource Foundation report in 1986 that said Styrofoam manufacturers were the fifth-largest producer of toxic waste in the word. They also cited a Green Dining Alliance estimate that 2.3 million tons of expanded polystyrene products end up in landfills every year, which accounted for about 30 percent of all the landfill space on the planet. In Connecticut, a 2015 report concluded that about 12,000 tons of food-grade expanded polystyrene, not including waste from schools was thrown away every year in the state’s trash.

During the bill’s public hearing, Julie DesChamps of Waste Free Greenwich, part of a coalition of groups forming ReThink Disposable CT, testified that the group conducted a survey of 31 Connecticut school districts in 2021 and found that 80 percent of them had already switched from expanded polystyrene trays to some type of safer, more environmentally friendly disposable or even reusable food serviceware.

Districts that have already transitioned away from Styrofoam school food trays include New Canaan, Norwich, Wilton, Bristol, New Haven, Norwalk and Stamford.