If there is someone in your life that has owned or operated a restaurant over the last few years, when was the last time you asked them how they were doing? We experienced a long arduous pandemic, a mandated shut-down, supply chain disruption and now, the current inflation crisis.
It has been a time of great challenges with few moments of relief. Between 2020 and 2021, lockdowns and capacity limits kept customers out of dining rooms. Restaurants that could turn to outdoor dining, curbside pickup, take-out, and delivery options did so to keep their businesses alive and their employees paid.
The lucky ones managed to make it through to the other end, with in-person dining returning to many places in recent months.
While dining has picked up in towns across our state, cities like Hartford have had much more trouble hanging on. Here, business has not returned to normal because large employers are still operating on remote or hybrid work schedules, adding pressure to an already challenging situation.
Inflation is exploding, and businesses like mine that hold the economic chain together are feeling the pinch in a way we thought we were coming to the end of. To put it bluntly, we need to find ways to do substantial good for our environment without endlessly expecting 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 permitted for use.
Senate Bill 118 would end the availability of these food containers that have been critical to restaurant operations during and since the pandemic. Many restaurants like ours make large-scale packaging purchases well in advance. The need for this practice has only been reinforced in importance over recent months as painful rises in general inflation have brought more financial havoc to our industry and the economy.
Restaurant owners do this to ensure their ability to fulfill take-out demand well into an uncertain economic future. The state should not make it harder for us to get by 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 pass a polystyrene ban in the form of SB 118. As a complement to traditional mechanical recycling, advanced chemical recycling would enable more extensive uses of recycled plastic materials.
Byproducts of standard recycling are not very practical; industries manufacturing consumer products do not want the plastic chips that traditional recycling produces, but advanced recycling creates byproducts comparable to raw extracted materials. Most consumer products made with similar virgin materials could include advanced recycling byproducts. It is not a ‘silver bullet’ for our waste management problems, but it will significantly cut into our plastic waste and pollution problems.
Creating a modern, 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 the other end. The balanced approach that Connecticut needs at this critical moment is to avoid an outright ban on food containers that would do great harm to restaurants by creating another way to recapture plastic waste and pollution.
The inflation we are all feeling does not seem likely to let up soon. Achieving our environmental goals while propping up the businesses that help society run day after day is a real winner in my book.
Connecticut can be a leader in plastic waste reduction and help small businesses during a time 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.