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Gov. Ralph Northam has signed legislation sponsored by Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, to bar expanded polystyrene food service containers, often used for takeout food orders.
The ban will take effect in July 2023 for larger chain restaurants and in 2025 for nonprofits and small businesses.
Environmental activists say the lightweight containers are a key factor in polluting oceans and other waterways.
Carr said in a recent Facebook post: “It is important that we take responsibility now for the world we will leave our children and grandchildren.”
Maine, Maryland and Vermont have passed prohibitions on such containers, and a New York law takes effect in 2022.
“Our leaders have chosen to put the planet over plastic,” said Elly Boehmer, state director of Environment Virginia, in a statement.
“By approving the bill, Governor Northam has recognized what most Virginians already know: a lot of waste comes from things we don’t need and we know we shouldn’t use, such as foam cups and take-out containers. This trash ends up in our open spaces and waterways, where it endangers wildlife.
“Polystyrene never breaks down, so it harms our environment for decades. Nothing we use for 5 minutes should pollute our planet for generations to come.”
Carr’s bill initially passed the legislature in 2020, but senators added a re-enactment clause, meaning it had to clear the General Assembly again this year.
Eric Terry, president of the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging & Travel Association, which represents about 1,500 restaurants in the state, said the ban on these types of containers will be “costly to restaurants.”
“One operator estimates it could cost him $34,000 per unit at a time they are trying to recover,” Terry said of the operator of a national restaurant chain that has more than a dozen locations across Virginia.
Prices at restaurant suppliers differ, but generally foam containers are cheaper than their paper or plastic rivals.
At webstaurantstore.com, an online restaurant supplier, a case of 16-ounce cups run about $57.99 for plastic cups, $54.98 for paper and $49.26 for foam. Foam has the added benefit of being useful for hot or cold beverages, unlike its lower-tiered paper or plastic rivals.