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Delaware lawmakers approve plastics ban

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(The Center Square) — Delaware restaurants would be barred from offering certain plastic food and beverage containers under a proposal being finalized by state lawmakers.

The legislation approved by the state House of Representatives last week would prohibit restaurants from serving ready-to-eat food in containers made of polystyrene, commonly known by its brand name, Styrofoam.

Plastic drink stirrers, cocktail picks and sandwich picks also would be banned under the law, but restaurants would still be allowed to offer plastic forks, knives and spoons. If a customer requests, plastic straws would still be allowed for hospital patients and residents of long-term care facilities and restaurants.

State Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the toxic plastic products contain carcinogens and often end up in Delaware’s landfills, beaches and coastal waterways.

“Over time, this cheap material breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, which can be ingested by wildlife and passed into the food chain or water supply,” he said in a statement. “That’s why we must take action to reduce the amount of plastics that end up in our landfills, along our streets, and in our waterways.”

The House amended the bill to remove exemptions for fire companies and nonprofits from a prohibition on providing ready-to-eat food in polystyrene foam food service packaging, and narrowed exemptions for home care providers.

The updated bill, which would go into effect on July 1, 2025, also clarifies that a food establishment’s license can’t be suspended or revoked for violating the proposed Styrofoam ban and delays penalties for up to one year after a citation is issued.

“We know that polystyrene containers and single-use plastic products contribute greatly to our litter problem, but they also present a huge health concern,” state Rep. Baumbach, D-Newark North, another sponsor, said in a statement.

The Delaware Restaurant Association opposes the move, which says it would add to costs for restaurants still struggling amid labor shortages and supply chain issues in the wake of 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 which were not able to access the government resources during the pandemic and simply cannot afford any increases in doing business,” Carrie Leishman, the association’s president, said in a statement.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says polystyrene packaging is a major source of ground-level ozone, contributing to poor air quality and childhood asthma.

At least six states and several major cities have banned polystyrene products in food service, manufacturing and other industries, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

The plastic industry has pushed back against efforts to outlaw the products, arguing that it wouldn’t solve the littering problem and discounts alternative packaging that is considered environmentally friendly.

The amended measure now heads back to the Senate, which must approve the changes before sending it to Gov. John Carney’s desk for review.

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