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Norwalk looks to ban Styrofoam

(Photo by Flickr user robertgeiger1.)

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Common Council members are poised to on Tuesday ban the use of Styrofoam by retail establishments and food packagers within the City.

The cost to Norwalk Public Schools has been a major topic of conversation; NPS Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton on Aug. 20 said there are two options, one which would cost $34,000 and another, which would be more environmentally friendly but cost $219,508 a year.

Council members indicated a willingness to cover that cost with a special appropriation.

“A big part what we’re doing is trying to protect the school kids as well. And I think that’s, that’s worth some money,” Council President Tom Livingston (D-District E) said.

On Sunday, Livingston indicated that Council members are choosing the less expense option.

This proposed ban comes on the heels of a plastic shopping bag ban. There has also been talk of banning plastic straws.

Polystyrene, commonly called Styrofoam, is believed to be a carcinogen (cancer causing) by the Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Betty Ball of Skip the Plastic Norwalk said. It can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, upper respiratory tract and the gastrointestinal tract, and exhibits its toxicity to humans as a neurotoxin by attacking the central and peripheral nervous systems.

“Polystyrene trays are used in most Norwalk schools exposing the youngest people to the chemicals toxic effects,” Ball said. “The EPA ranks polystyrene manufacturing as the fifth worst global industry in terms of hazardous waste creation. Polystyrene containers, including coffee cups and takeout containers, leach the toxin styrene when they come into contact with warm food or drink alcohol, oils and acidic foods causing human contamination, which poses a health risk to people.”

NPS uses 1.37 million Styrofoam trays per year, Livingston noted, citing Hamilton’s report.

“That’s a lot of waste. That that has cost associated with the waste as well,” Livingston said.

The school district is very interested in moving toward more environmentally friendly practices, has installed dishwashers in two schools and is planning to install dishwashers in two more schools by the end of the year, Hamilton said. But you need a place to dry and store reusable trays, and “it’s going to be a while,” like, “probably 10 years,” before NPS switches entirely over because “storage space is a real issue.”

Chartwells, the district’s food vendor, indicated that NPS could switch to a molded fiber tray at a cost of $34,000 or a “fully compostable” plant-based tray for $219,508, Hamilton reported. The fiber tray doesn’t fully biodegrade but is better than Styrofoam and, “this is often the preferred solution since most Connecticut waste does go to an incinerator,” he said.

Council member Chris Yerinides (D-District A) asked if there’s a plan to compost the trays. Hamilton said that was a good question and Livingston asserted, “They say it’s compostable. It’s not really.”

Chartwells might have a plan, Hamilton said.

Apparently not: Livingston on Sunday wrote, “{T}here are currently no industrial composting facilities in Fairfield County that accept these products.  The compostable trays will likely be incinerated as garbage so are not worth the additional cost.”

The students hate Styrofoam trays “so much,” Committee Chairwoman Eloisa Melendez (D-District A) said on Aug. 20. “It’s horrible to have to throw those things out every day, and have to eat on them and use them and cut on them, you know, clearly what it’s about.”

“The idea of a Board of Education is to educate,” Corsello said. “This is part of educating our kids, what’s drastically important, and if there’s a cost associated with it then that’s a cost we should be willing to bear. So I am OK with it.”

He also noted that no businesses had come to the public hearing although it had been advertised to the Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s because, I guess, they recognize times have changed and they’ll find alternative way to be pushing their goods when they ship them out of town,” Corsello said.

“I noticed that more often than not, lately, packages are coming in packed with brown paper crumpled up,” Council member Beth Siegelbaum (D-District C) said.

“I work at a small store and we ship stuff out all the time and never use (Styrofoam) peanuts. So it’s definitely achievable,” Yerinides said.

The Committee agreed unanimously to send its proposed ordinance to the full Council for a vote.

The ordinance is on the agenda for Tuesday’s Council meeting. It would go into effect after six months; first time violators would be given a written warning. A second violation would result in a $150 fine and each violation after that would draw a $250 fine. Only one violation could be issued in a 24 hour period.

17 comments

Mitch Adis September 9, 2019 at 4:02 am

Styrofoam is the biggest issue we have? Common Council needs to solve bigger problems first. Once they’ve done that then they can focus on lesser issues. They are like a bunch of kids who want desert before eating their dinner.

Milly September 9, 2019 at 6:08 am

Does anyone have the data about how much waste water the new apartments all over town are producing? And how much is it costing the city to work on the blocked sewer lines it is causing?

M Murray September 9, 2019 at 6:34 am

Any chance of the common Council banning Canadian geese now that they will no longer allow them to be hunted? Their population will surely soar without population control, and they are the largest known polluters of the local parks and ponds making the grass and water barely usable.

Ernie DesRochers September 9, 2019 at 7:43 am

Packaging waste is a major issue for sure but when elected politicians discuss a “special appropriation” to cover the cost for NPS that means it will be a cost to all of us as taxpayers. That said this common council should really focus on the quality of life issues that impact our city. Low hanging fruit like this to make yourself feel better is no way to properly run a city.

John Levin September 9, 2019 at 8:36 am

Best approach to reduce styrofoam is to tax it, not ban it, but a ban likely is easier to enforce so never mind.

It’s fun to see how the comments quickly move to other subjects and unfinished business: beach hunting of birds, school funding, water use by apartment buildings. Still, who can resist the lures presented?

Like rats in NYC, deer in Fairfield County, and coyotes in New Canaan, Canada Geese have found a happy home in Norwalk. M Murray, I had no idea that hunters had been responsible for preventing their numbers from exploding. If that was the case, Norwalk needs better hunters.

Milly: you’re up early worried about apartment buildings using water and blocking sewer lines? Okay. I’m glad I could sleep in and not worry about stuff like that. But of course I had not known that new apartment buildings are blocking sewer lines. Is that a real thing or just made up? I’ve been traveling and haven’t kept up on our local news so actually that is a real question.

Mitch: I don’t think anyone has said or suggested that styrofoam is our biggest issue. But I’m glad our town council can do more than one thing and attend to more than one issue. I think it’s a step in the right direction and in no way prevents other progress for our city.

Ernie: we are in agreement that packaging waste is a major issue. I’m glad that our town council and local school district all can help address it. Quality of life gets better one step at a time and every step helps.

I love Norwalk. Thanks Nancy!

Andrew September 9, 2019 at 8:56 am

Just a casual observation that most proposals in some form or another add to costs. I’m not in disagreement about some of the proposals, but would live to see a balance where something is proposed that will result in savings of some form.

Barbara Meyer-Mitchell September 9, 2019 at 9:14 am

The real question is what is the true long term cost of using a carcinogenic material that could affect the health of our children? If it causes even one case of cancer, then $34k to buy fiber pays for itself. As Americans, we have to start making choices that help ourselves over the long term, not choose the quick fix that we end up paying for somewhere down the line. Manresa is another perfect example. We must fully remediate Manresa, or we will have consequences further down the timeline.

Kevin Kane September 9, 2019 at 9:21 am

Fastfood trays have existed since, what – the early 70s? – Norwalk is still using styrofoam? Wha? Hop in a car and see how the private sector is doing it – there are some newly created restaurants such as McDonalds, KFC, Taco Bell who have these handy trays and packaging…
This is not about eco smarts, it’s about logic an priorities.
10 years to implement? Get real. Storage? Where were the 1.37 million trays being stored?
“Special Appropriation”, how convenient to find money in a blink.
Head up the road – the schools you want to merge with have a sound approach: Wilton is full speed into truly addressing waste.
Did the council get an update from the first Zero Waste Schools Coalition meeting October of 2018? Norwalk was 1 of 12 schools to attend. How is that initiative progressing in Norwalk? Who in Norwalk is leading that?

Diane Lauricella September 9, 2019 at 9:21 am

This Styrofoam Ban Ordinance is one of the steps to handle our waste management issues and I endorse it and hope that our government and the Chamber of Commerce offer lists of alternatives and even considers group purchase power to lower cost.

@Milly Do you have details about your apartment building sewer clog?
Details and facts should count before speculation in this world…

Ursula Caterbone September 9, 2019 at 10:14 am

What message are Norwalk’s children getting about waste and environmental concerns when schools give them styrofoam trays with their lunch?
It may come as a surprise to people under a certain age to learn that our world worked just fine before styrofoam food trays, cups, take out containers, and grocery store meat trays. We can get along without them again.
The manufacture of styrofoam pollutes the air with toxins and carcinogens. Let’s participate in getting rid of it.

Ed September 9, 2019 at 10:24 am

I didn’t realize the NPS was using styrofoam trays as opposed to polypropylene trays which I had when I was in high school. Why do we have to change the law? Just get the school to use better trays. I’m surprised how cheap the NPS is.

Ursula Caterbone September 9, 2019 at 10:40 am

Norwalk schools need to ultimately reduce waste as much as possible. Replacing styrofoam trays with any other single use trays has to be a short term solution, whatever the cost.
Mitch, like most women do every day, our Common Council can handle more than one issue at a time. I’m proud of our Common Council for being in the forefront of addressing environmental issues.
If they put the smaller, more easily resolved issues aside until the big, time consuming issues are resolved very little would get done.

Al Bore September 9, 2019 at 11:14 am

I wish the council would give thought to how many more massive apartment buildings they are going to rubber stamp through the system for the out of town developers, since we can no longer move around the congested streets of Norwalk. Traffic overburdened infrastructure quality of life and the mall surviving 5 years, those are the big issues that get little council debate. Most of their time is spent on the color of police cars and plastic straws.

Kevin K September 9, 2019 at 12:15 pm

the Not thinking this thru and the arrogance of this is astounding . . what is the city of Norwalk going to do about national and international retailers that ship in styrofoam such as Nutrisystems – Weight Watchers – Dunkin Donuts – Amazon – Uline . . . are they prepared to defend against national attorneys slapping lawsuits on them . . . does anyone even know that . . . Just another BS curve ball to avoid dealing with Unfunded liabilities ( reckless spending on pensions benefits ) and the Local economics that over $1 Billion of business and revenue have left Norwalk in the last few years . . . still trying to fool some of the people

carol September 9, 2019 at 12:34 pm

agree al bore,with all are other issues,to many apartments,one way issac street,traffic nightmares,the mall and now they want to concentrate on trays–give us a break and do the job you were voted in to do.

Townie September 9, 2019 at 12:58 pm

I agree with the statement made by Diane L. that “details and facts should count before speculation in this world…”. A noble standard that is always followed by our most elite journalists, major news networks and Washington politicians.

Milly September 9, 2019 at 3:57 pm

Diane – FACT I have seen numerous times a huge truck that says Jacobs/City of Norwalk at the corner of Mill Hill and Wall Street where Head of the Harbor is flushing the sewer line. These same trucks have been on West Ave where those two humongous apartment complexes are across the street from each other. Do you really think the sewer system can handle this increase without there being problems?

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