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Lawmakers split over bill to ban plastic foam to-go containers 

A bill in the General Assembly that bans expanded polystyrene containers, also known as plastic foam, at all food vendors by 2025 currently is in limbo while both chambers hash out a Senate amendment rejected by the House.

Capital News Service

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By David Tran

A bill in the General Assembly that bans expanded polystyrene containers, also known as plastic foam, at all food vendors by 2025 currently is in limbo while both chambers hash out a Senate amendment rejected by the House.

House Bill 533 would prohibit food vendors, including restaurants, catering trucks, and grocery stores, from serving food and beverages in plastic foam containers, plates, cups, and trays. The ban does not extend to packaging of unprepared food.

Del. Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond, is chief patron of the bill, which has two phases. First, food chain establishments with 20 locations or more would be required to phase out the plastic foam containers by July 1, 2023. The next deadline for all food vendors to eliminate use of such containers would be July 1, 2025. Carr’s bill exempts institutions such as schools and correctional facilities from the ban.

The bill passed the House (55-44) and the Senate passed it (23-13) with an amendment proposed by Sen. David R. Suetterlein, R-Roanoke. The amendment adds a reenactment clause stipulating the bill will not be enacted until it is voted on and passed again next year by the General Assembly.

 The House overwhelming (99-1) rejected the amendment, and the Senate didn’t budge insisting (38-1) on the reenactment clause. As of Feb. 27, the bill was assigned to a conference committee to debate its fate.

Co-patron Del. Paul E. Krizek, D-Fairfax, said the reenactment clause is “a way to kick the can down the road.”

“I was really hoping that we had come to a good compromise,” Krizek said, in reference to the two deadlines given to vendors to stop distributing polystyrene materials.

Krizek’s bill HB 1046 was incorporated into Carr’s bill. He said his bill stemmed from Maine’s prohibition of polystyrene containers that passed in 2019.

“Nothing we use for a few minutes should be allowed to pollute our oceans and rivers and threaten wildlife for centuries,” Krizek said via email.

Expanded polystyrene foam, widely known as Styrofoam, breaks down into small pieces and takes an estimated hundreds to thousands of years to biodegrade, according to Elly Boehmer, the state director of Environment Virginia. The organization is an affiliate of Environment America, which works to advocate for environmental issues locally and nationally.

“Polystyrene is one of the most commonly found types of litter,” Boehmer said. “By reducing this type of litter from being an option in our environment, it would do a lot to protect our wildlife and our ecosystems.”

Environment Virginia launched a campaign called “Wildlife Over Waste” in 2018 with the goal to reduce the use of plastic foam cups and containers.

The organization campaigned across the state and gathered enough signed petitions to meet with Carr and draft the bill.

Carr said in an email interview that she introduced the bill because polystyrene is a serious contributor to pollution and poses a health risk to humans and animals.

Businesses that still use polystyrene containers after the deadlines will receive a civil penalty up to $50 for each day of violation. Food vendors may be granted a one-year exemption under the basis of “undue economic hardship,” such as the inability to obtain alternatives to polystyrene containers.

Alternatives to plastic foam containers include recyclable materials such as biodegradable paper or plastics, which can be more expensive. However, the additional cost would be minimal if it is passed on to consumers, Boehmer said.

“It does reduce the cost of picking up litter and the cost is quite small,” Boehmer said. “If you get a $10 meal that comes in a to-go container, the additional cost would be less than 1% of that added to your total cost.”

The bill also empowers the Litter Control and Recycling Fund Advisory Board, which works to eliminate littering while encouraging recycling, to help oversee a newly established Litter Control and Recycling Fund. Any collected civil penalties will go directly into the fund. The advisory board’s proposed additional responsibilities include raising public awareness on the dangers of polystyrene and promoting alternatives to plastic foam containers.

Maine and Maryland have passed similar bills to ban polystyrene food service containers in 2019. Several states, such as Oregon, Montana, and New Jersey, have introduced such legislation in the past year.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Downtown

New report finds Virginia Capital Trail generated $8.9 million in local economic activity last year

The report concluded that the Capital Trail contributed approximately $8.9 million in economic activity during FY 2018-19. The Trail which has seen a 65% increase in trail usage in March and a 46% increase in April over last year, is a driving stimulus for local business, tourism, and economic activity, the report found.

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The Virginia Capital Trail Foundation recently released an economic impact report by the University of Richmond in collaboration with the Institute for Service Research, the findings were significant.

The report concluded that the Capital Trail contributed approximately $8.9 million in economic activity during FY 2018-19. The Trail which has seen a 65% increase in trail usage in March and a 46% increase in April over last year, is a driving stimulus for local business, tourism, and economic activity, the report found.

The full economic impact report can be found here.

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Community

Venture Richmond Spruces Up Downtown

There are 126 new hanging baskets installed along Broad Street from Belvidere to 12th Street in the Arts District and in the Shockoe neighborhood. Just one of the new beautification projects from Venture Richmond recently completed.

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Venture Richmond just completed efforts to enhance the downtown area including Canal Walk and Brown’s Island.

They’ve been funding beautification projects in the downtown area since 2013. Over the years they’ve worked with

Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens, Capital One volunteers, and Virginia BioTech Park volunteers.

“Beautification projects are critically important to Downtown and its gateway neighborhoods. They help to inspire civic pride, create a sense of place and enhance the environment for businesses, residents and visitors, as well as attracting bees and butterflies to our urban areas,” said Lucy Meade, Director of Economic Development and Community Relations.

This year’s beautification projects included:

  • 126 hanging baskets installed along Broad Street from Belvidere to 12th Street in the Arts District and in the Shockoe neighborhood
  • 24 planters on Broad Street, 3rd Street, and 5th Street
  • 13 planting beds in the 400 block of East Grace Street
  • 5 medians including two blocks of Broad St. from Foushee to 1st Street, 3rd Street and I-95 ramp; 12th and Canal streets, and 14th and Dock streets (last two complete in early July)
  • 300+ annuals planted along the Canal Walk and around the Headman Statue on Brown’s Island

In addition to items above, the Clean & Safe Program’s contractor, Community Business Group (CBG), a local minority-owned firm, has been providing the “essential service” of sidewalk cleaning seven days a week throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, they have collected 269,000 gallons of trash and leaves.

​Following damages that occurred to businesses during recent protests, Venture Richmond and CBG launched a new Graffiti Cleaning Pilot Program as part of Clean & Safe. Property owners and businesses in the Downtown Service District area can request help removing graffiti by emailing [email protected].

Another item you’ll see soon is social-distancing circles on Brown’s Island to help visitors mantain social distancing.

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Business

Venture Richmond teams up with city for “Picnic in a Parklet” program to assist businesses during reopening phases

“We acknowledge the difficulty Richmond businesses face when trying to safely reopen and want to do what we can to make that easier on them,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Riverfront and Downtown Placemaking for Venture Richmond. “Parklets have the potential to offer an attractive, comfortable space for customers to physically-distance adjacent to the business, which may be needed for a smoother reopening. We look forward to working with any business in the city that submits a request.”

RVAHub Staff

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Venture Richmond has announced a new initiative, “Picnic in a Parklet,” a program designed to assist Richmond restaurants and other businesses with Phase 2 and 3 of Forward Virginia. Through this new partnership with the City of Richmond, business owners can receive design and permitting assistance for their requests for more outdoor space, particularly parklets.

Parklets are outdoor patio spaces constructed in the on-street parking lane of the street in front of a business that can function as an area for customers to gather and/or take to-go orders and eat outside in a physically-distanced environment. Parklets are, by definition, public space; but, restaurants can offer lightly packaged to-go orders for people who simply want to dine in the parklet in front of the restaurant.

“Transforming our use of public space innovatively and sustainably requires partnerships just like this one,” said Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. “By linking the business and design communities, this program will expand the city’s growing network of creatively designed public spaces.”

Business-owners who are interested in temporarily converting an on-street parking space adjacent to their storefront into a parklet will be connected with Venture Richmond to better assess their needs. If a parklet will be helpful and appropriate, Venture Richmond will work with the American Institute of Architects Richmond Chapter (AIA Richmond) to connect businesses with a certified architect for pro-bono parklet design services. Venture Richmond will assist the applicant through the steps needed to obtain a permit from the City of Richmond.

“We acknowledge the difficulty Richmond businesses face when trying to safely reopen and want to do what we can to make that easier on them,” said Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Riverfront and Downtown Placemaking for Venture Richmond. “Parklets have the potential to offer an attractive, comfortable space for customers to physically-distance adjacent to the business, which may be needed for a smoother reopening. We look forward to working with any business in the city that submits a request.”

Unless otherwise specified or revoked, parklet permits are valid for three years. All requests within Richmond City limits will be considered.

Requests for parklets can be submitted through the RVA Strong website. General information about parklets can be found here, and more information about the City of Richmond’s Parklet Program can be found here.

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