NYC Bill Would Ban Styrofoam Containers

Published July 6, 2013

The New York City Council is considering a bill to ban the sale of food served in polystyrene foam containers. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and at least 11 Council members publicly support the proposed ban, but consumers and small business owners are rallying against it.

Small Component of Landfills
The Bloomberg administration claims the many years it takes polystyrene to break down in local landfills justifies the product ban. According to the American Chemistry Council, however, polystyrene foam containers comprise less than 1 percent of landfill waste.

Alternative Products More Costly
The American Chemistry Council said the proposal could cost the city and state $100 million per year and would do little to reduce solid waste.

Local restaurant owners and business leaders protested at a June 12 City Council meeting, imploring lawmakers to consider a recycling alternative.

The American Chemistry Council said a polystyrene container ban would force New York City business owners to purchase alternative foodservice products, such as paper or aluminum, which cost more and don’t insulate as well as their foam counterparts.

A study published by MB Public Affairs shows for every $1.00 now spent on polystyrene foam foodservice and drink containers, businesses would have to spend at least $1.94 on the alternative replacements, effectively doubling costs, if the ban is implemented. 

Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets at the American Chemistry Council, says forcing consumers to use alternative carry-out containers would not only impact local businesses but the city and state as well.

“Obviously, $100 million per year is a large expense. …. The replacements just can’t do that as well, and the costs for that food service would nearly double,” Christman said.

Recycling Options
Reeves Eisen, a spokesperson for Councilman Lewis Fidler, who is sponsoring the proposal at Bloomberg’s request, said recycling plants rejected proposals to recycle polystyrene. 

“They cited difficulty in the process and a very uncertain market,” Eisen said.

Christman acknowledged polystyrene recycling is a challenge, but he pointed to new study by Moore Recycling Associates that found access to polystyrene recycling has expanded much more quickly than the recycling of alternative products. For example, the study found 50 percent of the population of major cities in California has access to foam recycling, compared with 15 percent of those same cities recycling or compositing paper-based alternatives.  

Christman said the American Chemistry Council is willing to help cities formulate recycling plans for polystyrene containers.

“We’re interested in working with the city to reduce the barriers to make that happen,” Christman said.

Illusive Benefits
Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), minority leader in the New York State Assembly, said the ban will kill jobs and ignores environmentally friendly alternatives such as recycling.

“Earlier this year, I urged New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council to reconsider a potential ban on polystyrene foam,” said Kolb (R-Canandaigua). “Most polystyrene is manufactured in close proximity to its final market, so a ban in New York City will have a deep impact on New York companies that manufacture the foam, negative effects on statewide businesses, and put jobs in jeopardy.

“Reducing waste and increasing recycling are laudable goals, but the truth is, this ban will not accomplish those objectives,” Kolb added. “Polystyrene foam can be recycled and recycling programs exist in 65 cities across the country.”

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.