For the first time in almost a year, we can see a light at the end of the tunnel of the COVID-19 pandemic. But that does not mean we are out of the tunnel yet – and these coming months will be critical for the recovery. That is why this is not the time for the Connecticut General Assembly to push the polystyrene ban (HB 6502) they seem on track toward passing.
This is not only a matter of the legislature allowing themselves to get distracted by some non-urgent issue when they should be focusing on more important legislation. A polystyrene ban would actively hurt the recovery. Worse, it would specifically inflict harm on two sectors that have been particularly devastated by the pandemic: restaurants and bars like ours, as well as schools here in the Greater Hartford region.
We know the pain and pressure that our peers have faced. Lockdowns and capacity limits kept customers out of dining rooms. Establishments that had the capacity turned to curbside pickup, takeout, and delivery options to keep their businesses alive and their employees paid. The lucky ones like Roberto’s and Red Rock Tavern have managed to get by, but for many even this adjustment has not been enough.
Cheap, effective, single-use, food service packaging options including those made with polystyrene have allowed restaurants to pivot to a take-out/delivery model while maintaining financial flexibility in a precarious environment. Removing the polystyrene option will force those restaurants and bars to change over to much more expensive packaging. That money has to come from somewhere, and no one wants to be laying off staff or hiking prices for customers at the tail end of a public crisis where we are all trying to build back to something that looks enough like normal.
Supporters of the General Assembly’s proposed polystyrene ban might try to argue that these costs, while painful, are worth the environmental benefits. We have big challenges in that regard, but taking an approach that will cause substantial hardship for restaurants and bars, schools and nonprofits during what will be a slow economic recovery from a public health crisis doesn’t feel like it would be the best use of a short legislative session this year.
Beyond that, we have heard that there are innovations in advanced plastic recycling that could create a more circular industry in the extremely near term. Surely, a measure like this can wait out the recovery.
As Connecticut and the rest of America emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a time to focus on the recovery on many fronts. House Bill 6502 does the opposite, ignoring the immediate needs of businesses like ours during a time when we need supportive policy the most in order to advance a policy that will actively hurt the recovery. Our leaders have more important things on which to focus – and, hopefully, better ideas to enact.
Robert D’Eliseo is the owner of Roberto’s – Roberto’s Real American Tavern in East Windsor and Roberto’s Log Cabin in Lebanon. Don Mancini owns and operates Red Rock Tavern in Hartford.