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Gov. Carney signs Delaware restaurant foam, plastics ban

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Senate Bill 51 styrofoam ban signing John Carney

Gov. John Carney, right, poses with advocates and legislative sponsors of Senate Bill 51 after its signing Tuesday. | PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE

DOVER – Gov. John Carney signed a ban on single-use plastics and polystyrene foam containers for restaurants Tuesday, supporting a goal of environmentalists that drew opposition from some parts of the state’s business community.

Senate Bill 51 prohibits polystyrene foam containers, plastic straws and beverage stirrers and more from dining establishments. Customers would be provided with a plastic straw only on request – a caveat particularly important to the disabled community.

Dart Container First State Logistics Park Delaware City

It’s unclear what impact the polystrene ban may have on Dart Container, which came to Delaware after a similar ban in Maryland. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

It passed the Senate 14-5 largely along partisan lines, with all Republicans in opposition. State Sen. Nicole Poore (D-Bear/Delaware City), who represents the area where major polystyrene manufacturer and distributor Dart Container has a facility, chose not to vote.

In the House of Representatives, it passed 29-11 with a handful of Republicans joining the majority Democrats in approval. Notably, three amendments offered in the House helped gain support from the Delaware Restaurant Association after it strongly opposed the original bill.

It particularly criticized the decision to exempt health care institutions, nonprofits, and fire companies from the ban on foam containers. Legislators relented, and removed exemptions for the latter two and narrowed the health care exemption to only apply to patients and residents of facilities. A third amendment also ensured that a food service license could not be revoked for violation of the law.

“While we still believe that packaging choice should be left to the individual operators and still believe that the bill disproportionately affects smaller, ethnic restaurants, we advocated to level the playing field to include nonprofits and other food service entities,” Delaware Restaurant Association President and CEO Carrie Leishman told Delaware Business Times earlier this summer after the legislature approved the bill. “No business should lose their license for serving a plastic toothpick.”

It’s unclear what impact the new ban will have on Dart Container, which brought about 60 jobs to the First State Logistics Park near Delaware City in 2020 after Maryland enacted the same polystrene ban there. Delaware approved about $3 million in grants to help relocate the company here.

“At minimum, we would have a negative impact on the size of our workforce here,” Keith Curry, the site manager in Delaware for Dart Container, told state senators prior to their vote in April, declining to estimate the exact impact.

He noted that many workers at nearby Dart facilities in Pennsylvania and Maryland are also Delaware residents who would be impacted by the ban that would reduce demand for its products.

State Sen. Trey Paradee, who sponsored the bill, noted that while Dart Container does produce traditional polystyrene foam containers, it also produces reusable harder plastic and biodegradable paper to-go containers.

“If I’m going to follow your logic that would also mean that there could possibly be an increase in demand for your other products,” he told Curry.

The ban doesn’t actually go into effect until July 1, 2025, and requires a move to paper products or reusable plastics. It makes Delaware the 11th state to make the move along with Washington, D.C. Fines for noncompliance of the law would not begin until 2026.

Oceana, a national nonprofit that advocates for such bans in order to improve the health of the world’s oceans, heralded the governor’s support Tuesday.

“Today Delaware took a stand against single-use plastics, and now our oceans, communities, and climate are better off because of the state’s leadership. Delaware joins a growing list of states and cities that have taken action to tackle the plastic pollution crisis by banning plastic foam foodware and reducing other single-use plastics,” Christy Leavitt, campaign director at Oceana, said in a statement. “We applaud Governor Carney and the Delaware legislature for addressing this growing problem. Nationally, Congress and the Biden administration should follow in Delaware’s footsteps with strong policies against single-use plastics.”

The move to ban single-use plastics and polystyrene products in Delaware is among the recent efforts to reduce products that are not easily recycled.

In 2019, Delaware joined states like California, New Jersey and New York in banning single-use plastic bags in stores. After retailers started using thicker plastic bags to skirt the regulation, the legislature passed another bill to close that loophole and force compliance.

Polystyrene, which does not biodegrade for thousands of years, is one of the most littered materials in Delaware. And while it can be recycled through specialty operations, including at Dart Container facilities, it is not able to be recycled through most residential recycling programs in the state and therefore is typically discarded.

Between 2008 and 2019, thousands of pieces of polystyrene litter were found along Delaware beaches during annual coastal cleanup events, including 2,528 takeout containers, 2,626 cups and plates, and 15,0644 other pieces of polystyrene, according to Senate Democrats who advocated for the ban’s passage. A 2018 study of visible litter along Delaware highways found an average of 498 pieces of polystyrene litter per mile.

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