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Kids' Call To Action Leads To Dutchess Foam Food Container Ban

Students watch as Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro signs a resolution banning foam containers. Photo Credit: Dutchess County Government
One of the letters written by a student to Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro. Photo Credit: Dutchess County Government

DUTCHESS COUNTY, N.Y. --  Kids really can make a difference.

Especially when they have an adult with an open ear listening to their concerns.

Some Dutchess County kids were lucky enough to have the ear of Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro when they took up the cause of eliminating the use of polystyrene foam food containers at restaurant and chain food service establishments.

The kids, all students at Joseph D'Aquanni West Road Intermediate School, wrote letters to Molinaro and then later met with him to discuss the issue.

On Friday, Molinaro, joined by the students, signed a resolution into law which prohibits the use of polystyrene foam food containers in the county by chain food service establishments.

At its Oct.10 meeting, the Dutchess County Legislature approved the resolution by a 23-1 vote.

The students in teacher Barbara Kurdziel’s third-grade class at West Road School invited Molinaro to their classroom in June. During the visit, the students read letters they had written to him, voicing their displeasure about foam cups and the impact on the ecosystem.

“To see the students’ passion for their environment and their willingness to speak up about an issue that concerned them was refreshing and inspiring," said Molinaro. "I told the class I was proud they had done their research, and I would share the information they gathered with the members of the Dutchess County Legislature. Just a few months later, legislators have passed a resolution that will greatly impact these students, their families, and their community.”

Polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, has been identified as a potential human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Polystyrene foam is also poorly biodegradable, has also been historically difficult to recycle and can be toxic when burned.

The law will take effect immediately and be enforced starting Jan.1, 2019. It prohibits food chains which have 15 or more locations nationally, operate in Dutchess County, and provide prepared foods for public consumption from selling, packaging or distributing food in polystyrene foam containers – bowls, plates, cups and the like. County government departments and facilities will be prohibited from using disposable food service containers containing polystyrene foam at any county facility or event.

The law does contain exemptions, including an exemption for establishments that demonstrate a gross income below $500,000 and are unable to find a cost-neutral alternative to polystyrene foam food containers.

The first violation of the law will result in a written warning notice that specifies the penalties in the event of future violations. The DBCH Commissioner may levy fines no greater than $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third and subsequent offenses.

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