Bills targeting polystyrene containers, single-use plastics separately pass Illinois House, Senate

Two environmentally focused bills that would ban polystyrene foam food containers and curb single-use plastics separately have passed the Illinois House and Senate, and slowly are making their way to the other chamber.

HB2376, which would phase out the usage of single-use, polystyrene foam food containers made it through the House and awaits assignment in the Senate. It was introduced by Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz of Glenview and passed on March 21 on a 67-43 vote with two representatives absent and two abstentions.

The measure amends the Illinois Environmental Protection Act and bars Illinois retail establishments from selling or distributing food service containers composed of polystyrene foam for one-time use.

It would not affect coolers or ice chests used for shipping seafood or raw meat, and doesn't apply to food pantries, soup kitchens, nonprofits or government entities that provide food to needy people. Grocery stores, and restaurants that gross less than $500,000 also would not be affected.

Gong-Gershowitz said she had been working on the bill for three years. She reintroduced it on the House floor Feb. 14.

"It's been a long process," she said. "Like most changes there is always some resistance to change initially, but I think this is something that consumers in Illinois really want to see us accomplish."

The legislation would take effect Jan. 1, 2025, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor.

Sen. Laura Fine of Glenview is the lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate; co-sponsors include Sen. Julie Morrison of Lake Forest and Rep. Robyn Gabel of Evanston. Fine read the bill in the Senate on March 22. It awaits committee assignment.

"Combating plastic pollution in our environment has to become a top priority for a state like Illinois that has always led the way on environmental issues," Gong-Gershowitz said. "I'm incredibly proud to get this bill passed out of the House and I'm looking forward to seeing it successfully pass in the Senate."

The measure drew partisan support in the House, earning zero votes from Republican representatives, according to a spokesperson for Gong-Gershowitz.

Gong-Gershowitz said more environmentally suitable products are available for carryout at affordable prices. She pointed out the biodegradable takeout containers used at Hangar Two in The Glen, which uses containers made of paper.

"I see things like that and, first of all, applaud our local restaurants leading the way; and, two, this is something I hear all the time from my constituents. They want to see environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic forks and knives," she said.

Scott Thomson, a manager at Grandpa's Place in Glenview, understands why restaurants use Styrofoam containers - it's cheaper. However, Grandpa's uses recyclable plastic carryout containers, he said, noting many restaurants have veered from the polystyrene model.

"The industry sort of pivoted that way after COVID, to present a little better," said Thomson, adding that foam carryout containers look "more fast-foodish."

Fine also recently got a bill passed through the Senate by a vote of 51-2 that is now in the House Rules Committee awaiting assignment.

Starting July 1, 2024, SB0058 would require state agencies to track their purchases of single-use plastic foodware products for a year and to establish goals to reduce their use. The agencies must then file a report to the governor and the General Assembly.

"We are starting with government agencies so government can set the example," Fine said. "The hope is when they realize how much single-use plastic they use they'll be more thoughtful about the products that they purchase and use."

First-term Sen. Suzy Glowiak Hilton of Western Springs added to the environmental effort with a bill that passed the Senate on March 31. It would require new buildings more than 5,000 square feet with 100-person occupancy to provide a bottle-filling station with each new water fountain, to promote reusable water bottles.

"These are just steps," Fine said. "But they're steps in the right direction."

Gong-Gershowitz admitted retailers are "neutral" on her bill.

"Ultimately, I think our planet would be better served if we find more environmentally friendly alternatives to the use of plastics," she said. "They end up in our oceans, our lakes and streams. We now know that the average American ingests more than a tablespoon of microplastics a day."

State Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz introduced legislation that passed the Illinois House, which would ban single-use polystyrene foam carryout containers. Courtesy of Scott Olijar/Illinois House of Representatives
Proposed legislation that would phase out the usage of single-use, polystyrene foam food containers made it through the Illinois House and awaits assignment in the Senate. Associated Press
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