The Bulletin

Budgets call for polystyrene ban delay, despite 2021 compromise

By: - February 24, 2022 6:03 pm

Plastic foam containers would be banned from food vendors under House Bill 533. (David Tran/ VCU Capital News Service)

Despite last year’s compromise involving a phased state ban on food containers made from a plastic foam called polystyrene, both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly are moving forward with budget language that would delay implementation by five years. 

Language in both budgets would push back the date the ban will go into effect until July 2028 for large restaurants and food vendors, defined as those with 20 or more locations in Virginia, and until July 2030 for all such businesses. 

Existing law calls for the bans to go into effect in July 2023 and July 2025, respectively. 

Both the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday passed budgets including the delays, despite objections from House Democrats. 

“The fact that we had a compromise last year, bipartisan, bicameral, with the industry and with the environmental groups, and here we are today we find language stuck into the middle of a budget that says this bill won’t go into effect for five years, I think that’s a showing of some bad faith by some parties,” said Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax. 

Keam was alluding to the General Assembly’s “Great Polystyrene Compromise of 2021,” under which lawmakers in the Senate agreed to accept the polystyrene ban and the House accepted legislation designed to encourage the development of an “advanced recycling” industry in Virginia that many environmental groups opposed

The Senate did not debate the language delaying the polystyrene ban, which was proposed earlier this session by Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg. 

Polystyrene, a type of plastic foam often used for takeout food containers, does not degrade over time. Over the past decade, numerous countries have passed bans on its use, and in recent years U.S. states including Maryland and New Jersey have followed suit. 

Some Republican lawmakers, however, have fretted about the costs that a polystyrene ban could impose on small businesses, while industry opponents have said such a ban would hurt the development of the advanced recycling industry. 

Those concerns were raised again Thursday by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, who said it would be “far better than the policy of taxes and fees and bans” to “assess our current recycling infrastructure programs and create a plan to build a robust recycling infrastructure here in Virginia.” 

Both the House and Senate budgets also call for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to conduct a study of the economic and environmental impacts of recycling, including “the total lifecycle of human and environmental benefits and impacts” of recycling.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.