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Assembly OKs restaurant plastics, foam ban

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Styrofoam containers Delaware plastics foam food service ban prohibition

The Delaware legislature approved a ban on Styrofoam for food-service cups and takeout boxes on Tuesday. | Photo by Caleb Lucas on Unsplash | Photo by Caleb Lucas on Unsplash

DOVER – A push to ban single-use plastics and polystyrene foam containers in restaurants passed the Delaware General Assembly on Tuesday, after several amendments helped assuage opposition from the business community.

Senate Bill 51, sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee (D-Dover), 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.

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.

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. “No business should lose their license for serving a plastic toothpick.”

If signed by 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 11th state to make the move along with Washington, D.C. Fines for noncompliance of the law would not begin until 2026.

Dee Durham, co-founder of Plastic Free Delaware, a nonprofit working to reduce plastic pollution across the state, heralded the approval of the bill.

“After years of working to get this bill passed, we are excited to be one step closer to having healthier waterways, wildlife, and a cleaner environment. With safer and more sustainable alternatives readily available, it is time to get polystyrene foam out of Delaware once and for all,” she said.

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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