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Gray’s Styrofoam Proposal Might Rub House Wrong Way

Styrofoam reigns supreme in many of the Capitol’s eateries, but if Mayor Vincent Gray has his way, the rest of the District might do away with the material as part of an initiative to cut pollution.

Gray is proposing to ban plastic foam containers — like the cups, bowls and trays commonly used in House cafeterias — from food service. It would have an impact on the city’s grocery stores, restaurants, food trucks and other businesses that sell food in such containers.

The ban would not, however, change dining operations in the House, where D.C. does not have jurisdiction, according to the mayor’s office.

Polystyrene has become a politically- charged material in the chamber. Plastic foam was replaced with compostable containers under the Green the Capitol initiative of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., but House Republicans returned it to the cafeterias in 2011 in an effort to cut costs.

“Then-Speaker Pelosi launched the composting program,” said Pedro Ribeiro, director of communications for the mayor. “It’s been proven that it can be done. Though we can’t mandate legally that they do it, we would obviously encourage that they do so. It would be a shame if every other restaurant and carryout in the District were in compliance with the law and they weren’t.”

Democrats on Capitol Hill have tried to block the House from spending appropriated money on the material since its use has been reinstated, arguing that the plastic foam is not environmentally friendly.

Republicans point to waste-to-energy facilities where they have diverted up to 90 percent of the campus’ non-recyclable trash as an efficient and cost-effective way of diverting waste from landfills.

Gray is pushing for the ban in an effort to cut waste. The city previously began charging a 5 cent tax on plastic bags to cut pollution and discourage use, and after much initial resistance, the effort has largely been considered a success.

“One need only ride around on the banks, if you will, of the Anacostia or Potomac and you will see the refuse in the river, unfortunately,” Gray said. “Some of which contains a substantial amount of Styrofoam.”

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