New York will be enacting two laws in 2022 that will make your takeout orders a bit safer. You may be familiar with the ban on expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) food containers that will come into effect on January 1. But you may not be familiar with New York State’s ban on PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances) in food packaging that goes into effect on December 31.st. Both of these laws will apply to sales from food service providers and covered stores in the state.
The ban on EPS foam food containers mirrors the ban currently in effect in New York City. This ban, which took effect in 2019, has been the subject of several court challenges that have been dealt with by the New York court system. This bodes well for state law, as evidenced by a public comment period hosted by the Department of Environmental Conservation in November in which only one stakeholder requested a delay in enforcement. The group spokesperson acknowledged the need for the ban on foam containers, but noted some problems with identifying new suppliers at comparable costs. The overwhelming majority of commentators were in favor of the bill.
The ban on EPS foam food containers mirrors the ban currently in effect in New York City.
There were three reasons why former Governor Cuomo chose to ban EPS foam containers in his 2020 executive budget. First of all, these containers designed to keep your food warm also let chemicals through when exposed to hot food. These containers are made from styrene monomers, a chemical suspected of causing cancer. Additionally, the long-term effects of styrene exposure have been linked to depression and hormonal dysfunction. The latter is because styrenes mimic estrogen, causing thyroid and menstrual irregularities. Styrene contamination builds up in your body. Stored in the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, it can lead to fatigue, nervousness, and sleep disturbances.
Second, EPS foam cups and shells generate mountains of waste. EPS Foam is the poster child of the chasing arrows symbol misuse that indicates a recyclable item to many consumers. Although technically recyclable, EPS foams are not collected for recycling in most communities in the United States because they are too fragile to be collected in single-stream recycling programs. The broken foam contaminates the other items in the load, rendering it unusable to be made into a new product. Although it is a lightweight item, EPS foam accounts for 20-25% of all landfill volume in the United States.
Although it is a lightweight item, EPS foam accounts for 20-25% of all landfill volume in the United States.
Third, the EPS foam container is an important part of the curbside litter. Exposed to inclement weather, sun and wind, these containers break down into smaller and smaller pieces that resemble food for birds, fish and small mammals. Once ingested, even pieces the size of a pellet accumulate in the digestive tract of these animals.
Now that you know why our elected officials adopted this law, let’s see what changes you will see. January 1st, “Food service providers and indoor stores (wholesale retailers) will no longer be permitted to sell, offer for sale or distribute disposable styrofoam food containers in New York State. Additionally, no manufacturer or store will be permitted to sell, offer for sale, or distribute bulk polystyrene packaging (commonly referred to as peanut packaging) in the state. Goodbye to the foam coffee mug and clamshell food container from your local takeout stop. But it also removes foam plates and mugs from retail shelves. And state shippers will no longer be able to use the loose foam that protects your packages but is suspended in the air as soon as you try to remove the item from the box.
State shippers will no longer be able to use the bulk foam that protects your packages.
The law provides exemptions for containers used for raw meat, seafood, poultry or fish, and also exempts prepackaged and sealed food before it is received by a covered food service provider. So your local grocer will still be able to sell plastic-wrapped steaks and chops on the foam trays and Ramen noodle cups will still be on the shelves. For more information on the ban on EPS foam containers and bulk packaging, visit the DEC website page at on.ny.gov/FoamFreeNY .
Compared to the changes visible at the start of the year, the ban on PFAS in food packaging sold or distributed as is at the end of the year will be much less noticeable. Sometimes called “eternal chemicals” because they never break down completely, PFAS are a class of chemicals used for their non-stick and waterproof qualities. Famous brands, such as Teflon and Scotchgard have used its unique qualities. It is also a common addition to takeout containers and packaging because it is grease resistant.
Sometimes called “chemicals forever” because they never break down completely.
Unfortunately, these chemicals have been linked to impacts on health and the environment. New York State has previously designated two PFAS chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, as hazardous substances under state regulations. Similar to the styrofoam container, heated foods leach chemicals from PFAS-lined containers and wrappers and are absorbed into the food. Chemicals do not break down in the body – in fact, these chemicals also build up in the body. Studies have shown links to kidney and testicular cancer due to exposure to PFAS and it is also an endocrine disruptor.
Kudos to the New York State Legislature for passing these bills, which will protect the health of New Yorkers with minimal financial impact on retailers. With observable track records in other states, the time had come for bans, especially since there are safer food packaging alternatives for EPS foam containers and PFAS coatings.