U.S – The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has begun rulemaking to phase out the use of polystyrene products in Florida grocery stores, markets, convenience stores, and other regulated businesses.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried announced the major consumer and environmental policy initiative at a press conference in Sarasota.

For 100 years, polystyrene food packaging products like Styrofoam cups, plates, and to-go boxes have been inexpensive and widely available. However, studies have shown that chemicals within polystyrene foam may be linked to cancer, vision and hearing loss, birth defects, respiratory irritation, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and spleen, among other health effects, as well as serious, long-lasting environmental and animal health effects.

The department’s draft rule, 5K-4.045, will begin a multi-year phase-out of polystyrene packaging beginning in 2022, with a maximum allowable amount of polystyrene to be sold or distributed decreasing each year. The draft rule will also require regulated entities to file an annual report of the amount of polystyrene sold or distributed that year.

The department is currently undergoing the rulemaking process, to include workshops and public comment periods. According to The Packer, the rule will be established and enforced through the department’s statutory authority, Chapter 500.90, Florida Statutes.

The Commissioner commented that polystyrene may be convenient, but there is a hidden danger to public health from these disposable consumer products. Chemicals in polystyrene are not only linked to human and animal health concerns, but because these petroleum-based products take at least 500 years to decompose, their negative effects continue long after they’re thrown away.

“As Florida’s consumer protection and food safety agency, we have an opportunity to help consumers and companies make a positive change. That’s why I’m excited to announce that we have started the rulemaking process to phase out the use of polystyrene food packaging at the 40,000 grocery stores, markets, and convenience stores that we regulate in Florida,” said Commissioner Fried.

He added that by increasing demand for cost-effective alternative products, this is a huge opportunity to create Florida jobs, at Florida businesses, using Florida-grown crops to create next-generation products that are made in Florida. Fried noted that the vision to phase out polystyrene until reaching zero within this decade is a monumental change for consumers, health, and the environment, joining a third of U.S. states in taking action on this issue.

“Today, I am so happy to see the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services working toward the adoption of rules to begin to phase out polystyrene foodware in grocery and convenience stores across our state. They are demanding a shift in rules, products used, and extended producer responsibilities as part of our resiliency and sustainability plans into our future,” said Nicole de Venoge, Florida Policy Manager at the Surfrider Foundation.

This follows New York’s decree to ban restaurants and other food service providers from using polystyrene foam containers starting in January. The state ban also includes loose fill packaging, known as packing peanuts. A ban is already in place in Suffolk County, which prohibits the use of polystyrene foam containers unless it contains meat, eggs or other raw food items.

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