Forget the proposed ban on polystyrene containers in CT

If there is someone in your life who has owned or operated a restaurant in the last few years, when was the last time you asked them how they were doing? We have had a long and arduous pandemic, a mandatory shutdown, supply chain disruption and now, the current inflation crisis.

It was a time of great challenges with few moments of relief. Between 2020 and 2021, closures and capacity limits prevented customers from accessing the dining rooms. Restaurants that could turn to outdoor dining, curbside pickup, takeout, and delivery options did so to keep their businesses alive and their employees paid.

The lucky ones have managed to make it to the other end, with in-person dining returning to many places in recent months.

As mealtimes have resumed in cities across our state, cities like Hartford have had a much harder time hanging on. Business here has not returned to normal as large employers are still operating on remote or hybrid work schedules, adding pressure to an already difficult situation.

Inflation is exploding and companies like mine that keep the economic chain going are feeling the pinch in a way that we thought was coming to an end. To put it bluntly, we need to find ways to do substantial good for our environment without endlessly waiting for consumer-facing businesses to foot the lion’s share of the bill.

The last thing we need is an unnecessary packaging mandate that will reduce product availability and drive up the price of those authorized for use.

Senate Bill 118 would end the availability of these food containers that have been essential to restaurant operations during and since the pandemic. Many restaurants like ours do large-scale wrap purchases well in advance. The need for this practice has only grown in importance in recent months as painful increases in general inflation have brought more financial havoc on our industry and the economy.

Restaurant owners are doing this to ensure their ability to meet takeout demand in an uncertain economic future. The state should not make it difficult for us when there is already a better option before the legislature.

If the state were to promote and facilitate the creation of an advanced plastics recycling stream in Connecticut, there would be little need to enact a ban on polystyrene in the form of SB 118. In addition to traditional mechanical recycling , advanced chemical recycling would allow more intensive uses of recycled plastics.

Standard recycling by-products are not very practical; industries making consumer products don’t want the plastic shavings produced by traditional recycling, but advanced recycling creates by-products comparable to the extracted raw materials. Most consumer products made with similar virgin materials could include advanced recycling by-products. It’s not a “magic bullet” for our waste management problems, but it will significantly reduce our plastic waste and pollution problems.

Creating a modern and advanced recycling program would generate economic benefits for the state, with new jobs in facilities developed to manage the recycling process and a wide variety of industrial uses for what comes out of the other side. The balanced approach Connecticut needs at this critical time is to avoid an outright ban on food containers that would seriously harm restaurants by creating another way to reclaim plastic waste and pollution.

The inflation we’re all feeling doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. Achieving our environmental goals while supporting the businesses that help society function day in and day out is a real winner in my book.

Connecticut can be a leader in reducing plastic waste and helping small businesses in times of inflation by opposing SB 118 and promoting advanced recycling technologies. The General Assembly should do just that.

Ron Mancini is the owner of the Red Rock Tavern in Hartford.

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