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Fayetteville city officials have delayed the implementation of an ordinance banning single-use Styrofoam products at local businesses because of COVID-19 concerns.

The ordinance, passed November 5, 2019, prohibits the use of single-use Styrofoam products, such as to-go boxes and cups, by restaurants, hotels, caterers and shops in Fayetteville. The legislation was scheduled to go into effect May 1 but due to the mandatory closure of restaurant dine-in services ordered March 19, it has been postponed until July 1.

Mayor Lioneld Jordan, informed the city council of his decision to extend the implementation period for the ban, out of respect for businesses affected by COVID-19, said Councilwoman Teresa Turk.

Fayetteville Environmental Director Peter Nierengarten said he wants to be considerate of local businesses during this time.

“We thought it was appropriate to delay implementation until at least July,” Nierengarten said, “in hopes that (full restaurant service) will open back up, and the pandemic passes, and then we can move forward with implementation.”

Nierengarten said he thinks the restaurant industry is struggling enough because of on-site dining being banned to prevent the spread of COVID-19. He thinks these businesses should not have to worry about spending money transitioning to non-styrofoam to-go containers in the midst of a pandemic, he said.

Turk, who sponsored the Styrofoam bill, said while sustainability is important to her, she thinks it is important to accommodate local businesses during this pandemic. She thinks it would be unreasonable to put additional stress and financial strain on struggling small business owners, Turk said.

The implementation delay gives local restaurants such as JJ’s Grill on Dickson Street the chance to avoid further expenses while business is slow during the pandemic.

Richard Tolleson, the general manager at JJ’s Grill on Dickson Street, thinks switching from Styrofoam products is important for the environment, but pushing the ordinance back helps save money while facing the pandemic, he said.

“We kind of put everything on the backburner, obviously,” Tolleson said. “(We) are doing less than 10% of the business we are normally doing, and just trying to adjust and adapt to all of that has been really tough.”

Making the ban mandatory during the health crisis would add non-urgent items to vendors’ already-full to-do lists and tight budgets, Turk said.

Since the ordinance was passed, JJ’s management has been working with distributors to develop a plan for switching to non-Styrofoam products, Tolleson said.

“We had a plan in place for sure,” Tolleson said. “It is being pushed back – I hate to say that it is (about) money, but in order for (the owners) to pay everybody and still try to make the little bit of money we can to keep it afloat – you know it was just better to not switch yet.”

Turk, who also sponsors an effort to impose a 10-cent fee on single-use grocery bags, said she had seen some restaurants transition from Styrofoam to compostable cardboard containers even before the pandemic began.

“I think in general, most (restaurants) have been really accepting of the conversion, and, in fact, many of them have already done it,” Turk said.

The City Council will be sensitive to the hardships restaurants are facing during mandatory closures, and will continue to monitor the coronavirus situation closely, Turk said.

If the COVID-19 pandemic is still active by mid-June, Nierengarten would not be surprised if the ordinance is delayed once again, he said.

“I think we've got a little bit of time right now to assess the situation,” Nierengarten said.

Nierengarten does not want to put businesses through any more struggles than they are already facing, and he said he is excited to see the bill’s implementation once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

Abbi Ross is the Editor in Chief of the Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as senior staff reporter.

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