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Restaurant plastics, foam ban passes Delaware Senate

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Styrofoam containers polystyrene cup ban Delaware

A proposed ban on Styrofoam in food service that would prohibit the use of cups and takeout boxes passed its first legislative test on Thursday. | Photo by Caleb Lucas on Unsplash

DOVER – A push to ban single-use plastics and polystyrene foam containers in restaurants has advanced after passing the State Senate on Thursday afternoon.

Senate Bill 51, sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover), would prohibit foam containers, plastic straws and beverage stirrers and more from dining establishments. Customers would be provided a plastic straw only on request.

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 a major polystyrene manufacturer and distributor has a facility, chose not to vote.

“I want to thank my Senate colleagues for voting today to continue our work to reduce the harmful products in the marketplace and our environment,” Paradee said in a statement after the vote. “While the low cost of the products have made them pervasive in our daily lives, we now know they are harmful to wildlife and are potentially dangerous to human health. As a coastal state with a vibrant tourism industry that is critical to our economy and our quality of life, reducing plastic waste is particularly important for Delaware.”  

If passed by the House and the governor, the ban would go into effect on July 1, 2025, and require a move to paper products or reusable plastics. It would make Delaware the seventh state to make the move along with Washington, D.C.

Notably, the bill would exempt health care facilities, fire companies, and nonprofit organizations, including religious institutions, from the restrictions. It also excludes single-service plastic and polystyrene foam coolers used for the processing or transportation of seafood and packaging of raw, uncooked, or butchered meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, fruits, or vegetables.

The Delaware Restaurant Association, which represents scores of restaurants throughout the state, has cautioned that SB 51 would significantly impact small restaurants. Many of Delaware’s hundreds of restaurants are still recovering from labor shortages and supply chain delays triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We always opposed mandates that prohibit the use of specific consumer products or any bill that unjustly targets restaurants, specifically our smaller ethnic, mom-and-pop locations who were not able to access the government resources during the pandemic and simply cannot afford any increases in doing business,” Delaware Restaurant Association President and CEO Carrie Leishman said last month.

Dart Container at the First State Logistics Park, which distributes Styrofoam products, would be among the businesses most impacted by the proposed law. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

One of the businesses most impacted by the bill would be Dart Container, a producer and distributor of Styrofoam containers that moved to the First State Logistics Park near Delaware City in 2020 after a similar ban went into effect in its prior home of Maryland. The state 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 Thursday, 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.

Paradee 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 said.

State Sen. Eric Buckson (R-Dover) voiced his concern that SB 51 may open the door to further restrictions on Delaware businesses.

“While this specific legislation may in fact not carve out a significant part of [Dart’s] business, the next one may,” he said.

Advocating for the bill are a number of environmental groups, but also chambers of commerce representing Delaware’s coastal communities in Sussex County, representing hundreds of small and large business owners.

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.

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.

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. A 2018 study of visible litter along Delaware highways found an average of 498 pieces of polystyrene litter per mile.

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