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Businesses say upcoming Virginia EPS foam ban will help environment, hurt budgets

A new bill signed into law bars restaurants from using the material after 2025. Local businesses said they understand the choice, but are worried about the costs.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Editor's Note: The products have not been made of 'Styrofoam Brand' extruded polystyrene foam (XPS), but instead it is made of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) which is a different material manufactured by different companies.

The use of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam in Virginia restaurants is coming to an end. Gov. Ralph Northam recently signed a law that outlaws the substance by 2023 for chain restaurants and 2025 for small businesses and nonprofits.

According to Robert Melvin, the director of government affairs for the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, the cost of phasing it out will be substantial. 

"The first year converting cost them an average of 35,000 more per year. This is significant especially with thin margins over the past year. We think there are other ways we could have worked towards minimizing impacts," Melvin said, warning of the impacts on small business. 

Even with the costs looming large, the water is a way of life for Hampton Roads locals. 

BoBo's Fine Chicken owner, Bo Midgett, grew up in Virginia Beach.

"We fish and go to the beach just like everybody else, you don't want this stuff in a landfill or floating around in the Bay," Midgett said. His restaurant doesn't use EPS foam to-go containers but does use cups made out of the material. 

Zero's Subs in the ViBe District is owned by Mark Stevens. He's been here 18 years. 

"The amount of trash we see in our oceans, the environment is important - if we don't take care of that, we're in a bad situation," Stevens said. He told 13News Now he supports the transition overall. 

These owners care about the environment. 

Stevens made the switch away from plastic straws years ago, while Midgett said they were already contemplating a move away from EPS foam for environmental reasons, but both men have also just lived through a year of escalating costs and waves of restrictions. 

"We're dealing with increased costs in plasticware and minimum wage, it all adds up a lot for small businesses," Midgett said. 

"All small businesses are struggling now. There's been a price increase in terms of labor and all of my expenses have gone up," Stevens agreed, recounting the doubling in price for plastic gloves over the past year. 

Their biggest concern now is protecting businesses that have to make the change. 

"I'm all for switching, we just hope we can find a product that's inexpensive and the quality we want."