For the second year in a row, a bill that prohibits food vendors from using plastic foam containers is up in the air as the General Assembly hashes out a Senate amendment. Del. Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond, introduced House Bill 1902 this year after her bill passed last year with a reenactment clause, which means it must pass two years in a row. The Senate passed the legislation Friday in a 21-15 vote. The passage came with an amendment proposed by Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, that would not exempt nonprofits, state and local government entities and schools from the ban.
“Why are we going to say styrofoam is bad if it’s used by a small business, but it’s okay if it’s used by a school division,” Petersen said during Friday’s session. The House rejected the amendment and the Senate voted unanimously to insist on its amendment. There is a conference committee scheduled to work out the legislative differences.
The measure prohibits food vendors such as restaurants, food trucks and grocery stores from packaging prepared foods in polystyrene containers. The prohibition will not extend to packaging for unprepared foods, including coolers used in food shipments or unprepared food packages, such as raw or uncooked meat, fish or eggs. Retail food establishments with 20 or more locations are required to phase out plastic foam containers by July 2023. Other food vendors must stop using these types of takeout containers by July 2025.
The bill is a continuation of Virginia’s lawmakers’ sweeping effort to pass environmental legislation, but the COVID-19 pandemic has opened a discussion on the usefulness of single-use disposable packaging such as polystyrene to limit contamination and facilitate a shift to carry-out business.