Dutchess County Exec Signs Student-Driven Polystyrene Ban

Nov 3, 2017

Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro has signed a ban on polystyrene foam food containers by chain restaurants and county government. Molinaro signed the law Friday at a school in Pleasant Valley, surrounded by fourth-graders who inspired the ban.

Twenty-three third graders made the case for a plastic foam ban to the county executive in June, the second to last day of school. Now, some four months later, the West Road School fourth-graders encircled County Executive Molinaro as he signed the bill they helped create.

“But I can’t remember a time where a group of kids came up with an idea and got a law passed, certainly not in, I don’t know, three months, four months. So you guys, I think that Congress should take a lesson from you, that the president may want to watch out because you guys are going to take over soon,” Molinaro said. “And it’s really impressive. I’m really, really, really very proud of all of you. I’m thankful that you let me be a part of this.”

Barbara Kurdziel is the third grade teacher at West Road School whose class was behind the bill.

“I think they want to change the world right now,” Kurdziel says. “So, I’m so proud of them. I’m just thrilled for today.”

Kurdziel says she planted the seed of the idea and it took off. The kids researched the topic, educated others and advocated for a ban. The school is part of the Arlington Central School District.

“Arlington’s mission statement is for learners to lead passionate and purposeful lives, and they could not have been more passionate about this,” says Kurdziel. “So we made t-shirts that had ‘ban Styrofoam,’ we came up with logos of our own and they made their own t-shirts. And then we wrote letters to the governor and we wrote letters to County Executive Molinaro.”

She adds:

“And he came in with the understanding he was going to tell us about government and how the government works,” Kurdziel says. “So he gave a lovely talk and then we [slaps her hands] hit him with our Styrofoam presentations, and they presented the bill to the legislature September 11, voted on it October, I think it was October 10, with a 23-1 ‘yes,’ but the beautiful thing was they invited the children from that class to go and speak to the legislature about their concerns.”

Molinaro describes the ban, modeled after Albany County’s.

“So this bans the use of Styrofoam in packaging for food products in chain franchises across Dutchess County. And it’s a comprehensive ban that also includes Dutchess County government, so that we also will comply with the same restrictions.”

Polystyrene, or plastic foam, is commonly referred to as Styrofoam, a trademarked brand.

“We already have banned use of Styrofoam for our senior meal program, but organizations that provide food associated with the county, like the Hudson Valley Renegades, they continue to use Styrofoam. So this law will ban that practice as well,” Molinaro says. “It goes into effect immediately upon signature, but it doesn’t go, we won’t begin enforcement until the end of next year. So it gives a number of months for businesses to make that transition, and then we’ll start enforcement after that.”

Reed Poellot is one of the students behind the ban.

“I think polystyrene is bad because, like Laura said, in 100 years, we could start getting sick but instead of dying, we could be suffering and, if we suffered, it would just make a worse life for us and other species,” Poellot says. “So that’s why I think it’s good that we put a stop to it.”

Gabrielle Piercy also helped.

“Whenever you throw it out most of it goes straight to the ocean, and it kills a lot of sea animals and sea plants. And the people who make it, they also can get cancer by it,” says Piercy.

“That’s a good point,” says Molinaro.

“And it burns their skin, too,” Piercy says.

Republican Dutchess County Legislator Don Sagliano represents Pleasant Valley and says he supported the bill early on. Sagliano says polystyrene manufacturers opposed the ban.

“The environment’s more important, with this regard,” says Sagliano. “And it was more important to have these young kids experience the ability to make a difference, and to be involved.”

Meanwhile, in the Hudson Valley, Putnam County has a ban on plastic foam for government facilities and Ulster County’s polystyrene ban affects food service establishments, including chain restaurants, as well as any county managed concessions or sponsored event.