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N.Y. Governor Wants To Ban Foam Food Containers, Packing Peanuts

Jan. 7, 2020, 10:01 AM

New York could become the most populous state to ban foam food and beverage containers.

The potential prohibition, which also would include foam packaging materials, is one of several priorities announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) as he sets the agenda for the state’s 2020 legislative session.

Cuomo’s list of priorities, which he began rolling out in December ahead of his Jan. 8 State of the State address, so far include: legalizing gestational surrogacy; banning flavored nicotine vaping products; criminalizing fentanyl analogs, a synthetic opioid; creating plans to build high-speed rail in the state; and requiring automatic manual recounts in close statewide elections.

Cuomo could address additional issues that have attracted attention in Albany, as well, such as gig worker rights and legalizing recreational marijuana. More proposals likely would come as part of the executive budget request, due by Jan. 21.

Lawmakers are to return Jan. 8, with the Senate and Assembly kicking off the legislative session prior to Cuomo’s speech.

Banning Styrofoam Containers

The proposed ban on polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, comes after New York in 2019 had what environmentalists called one of the most productive legislative sessions in decades. Democrats took over the Senate majority and now lead both houses.

Among the laws passed were a ban on single-use plastic shopping bags and the most aggressive climate action plan in the nation. The climate law codifies the state’s goal of getting all its electricity from emission-free sources by 2040 and an 85% reduction in emissions economywide from 1990 levels by 2050.

Building on the climate bill and bag ban, the foam proposal would prohibit the distribution and use of single-use food or beverage containers made of the non-biodegradable substance, Cuomo announced Dec. 17.

New York would be the fourth state to implement a ban after similar measures were passed in Maine, Maryland, and Vermont last year.

The ban wouldn’t include prepackaged food sealed prior to receipt at restaurants and food service establishments, or packaging for uncooked or raw meat, fish, or eggs.

Cuomo also seeks to ban the sale of expanded polystyrene packaging materials, known as packing peanuts. Violators would face fines starting at $250.

“From take-out containers to packing peanuts, this material is everywhere and it will continue to pollute our waters and harm our wildlife for generations to come if we do not act,” Cuomo said in a news release announcing the proposal.

Businesses Foresee Uncertainty

A food industry trade group expressed concerns about the possible impact on businesses if the state outlaws some kinds of packaging.

“Our position and opinion is largely going to be dictated by how it’s written,” said Michael Durant, president and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State.

Durant noted that the industry is still waiting for final regulations to come out on a plastic bag ban that takes effect March 1.

“There’s a lot of things spinning out there, some potential, some not final yet, that are all going to impact the retail food industry specifically. This all just feels like it’s going to sort of pile on,” Durant said.

Lawmakers have introduced additional environmental bills this session to further reduce plastic waste, including a bill (A.7662/S.5282A) sponsored by both the Senate and Assembly environmental conservation committee chairmen Sen. Todd Kaminksy (D) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D) to ban single-use plastic toiletry bottles in hotels.

And with the climate bill out of the way, advocates and some lawmakers are calling for action to reduce carbon emissions in the transportation sector.

“The transportation arena, which has seen increases in emissions over the past several years, is not exempt. We need to work with new technology and innovative programs to support our goals of moving toward greener transportation alternatives,” Assemblyman John T. McDonald III (D) said in a December news release.

Other Proposals from Governor

Cuomo as of Jan. 6 had released 30 proposals ahead of his Jan. 8 speech. They include:

  • Preventing individuals who have committed certain crimes in other states — such as unlicensed possession of a firearm and forcible touching and other misdemeanor sex offenses — from receiving a gun license in New York.
  • A three-part plan to lower prescription drug costs that would cap insulin co-payments at $100 per month for insured patients, empowering the state Department of Financial Services to investigate and hold manufacturers accountable for “unjustifiable” hikes in drug prices; and establish a coommission to study the feasibility and benefits of a Canadian drug importation program.
  • Increasing transparency in healthcare costs by creating a state website where consumers can easily compare the cost and quality of healthcare procedures at hospitals in the state. The platform would provide resources so consumers can know their rights and financial assistance options.
  • Increasing net neutrality protections, such as prohibiting “zero-rating” practices, which penalize customers for accessing content or applications not preferred by their internet providers, and preventing the blocking and paid prioritization of online content.
  • Eliminating the so-called pink tax by banning gender-based price discrimination (making products targeted to women more expensive than those aimed at men) for similar or like-kind goods and services.
  • Passing an inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the state’s constitution establishing sex, ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity as protected classes.
  • Making the “New York Buy American” Act permanent, requiring the use of U.S.-made steel and iron for state road and bridge construction contracts worth more than $1 million.

To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergenvironment.com; Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com

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