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Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.

These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day. Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.

About the bill

In the midst of a cultural debate over plastic straws, one Pennsylvania state senator is instead taking aim at a more old-school environmental target: Styrofoam.

Styrofoam is a brand name commonly used to refer to polystyrene foam, an inexpensive plastic often used in packaging and to make containers. The advocacy organization No More Styrofoam calls it a “major environmental threat” because of its contribution to landfills (it is difficult to recycle and does not quickly biodegrade) and its alleged health risk to marine life.

“Unfortunately, discarded Styrofoam leads to the pollution of local waterways and the world’s oceans, and its particles are responsible for causing widespread poisoning of birds, marine life, and microorganisms,” state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-King of Prussia, wrote in a co-sponsorship memo. “In addition, as a material that is resistant to the sun’s rays, it may take up to 1 million years for Styrofoam to naturally decompose.”

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Leach has introduced a bill that would ban certain businesses from using the environmentally disfavored material.

Senate Bill 803 is designed to prevent food establishments from selling food to customers in containers made of Styrofoam. The bill would apply to restaurants, bars, grocery stores, cafeterias, public markets and even roadside stands, and would also ban Styrofoam utensils and straws. First-time violators would be fined up to $500.

Several cities, most prominently New York City, have already taken steps to ban Styrofoam.

However, such bans don’t come without controversy. Opponents argue that alternative products are more expensive to consumers, not necessarily better for the environment and increase the risk of food-borne illness by less effectively keeping food cold or hot than Styrofoam.

The bill was introduced in July, although a previous version of the bill was introduced in the 2017-18 legislative session. It sits in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

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Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at dwalmer@cumberlink.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.