NY Mayor Bloomberg pushes for citywide polystyrene ban

February 14, 2013

In his final State of the City address, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for a citywide ban on polystyrene foam food packaging from stores and restaurants.

"One product that is virtually impossible to recycle and never biodegrades is plastic foam," Bloomberg said. "It's something that we know is environmentally destructive and that may be hazardous to our health, that is costing taxpayers money and that we can easily do without."

He said that polystyrene foam adds up to $20 per ton in recycling costs because it needs to be removed from the recycling stream. The city handles about 1.2 million tons of food waste and the mayor's office estimates 20,000 tons of that is polystyrene foam.

"We can live without it, we may live longer without it," Bloomberg said. "Don't worry, the doggie bag and the coffee cup will survive just fine."

For the ban to become law, the City Council must approve it. The New York Times reports that City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn said that she was open to a ban on plastic foam as part of a larger effort to increase recycling. 

"It lives forever," Quinn told the publication. "It's worse than cockroaches." 

PS foam is a lightweight petroleum-based plastic material used for serving or transporting prepared foods, such as plates, bowls, clamshells and cups. This type of packaging is commonly referred to as Styrofoam, a registered trademark of Dow Chemical .

However, according to Dow, the Styrofoam brand name is often misused as a generic term for disposable foam products. There isn't a coffee cup, cooler or packaging material in the world made from actual Styrofoam brand extruded polystyrene foam insulation, the company said.

In response to Bloomberg's proposed ban, Steve Russell, VP of plastics for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), said that the ACC welcomes the opportunity to explore polystyrene foam foodservice recycling with NYC.  

He said the technology exists to recycle polystyrene foam foodservice right now. For example, in California 22% of households can recycle PS foam foodservice cups, plates, bowls, clamshells and other containers at curbside, which equates to more than eight million people, he said. Similar programs don't exist for other takeout foodservice. 

In addition, Russell said that many people mistakenly believe that paper cups and plates are being recycled, however, there is no significant commercial recycling of these products.

Polystyrene foam foodservice products make up less than one percent of our nation's solid waste, according to EPA.

A study comparing the energy consumption, water use, solid waste (by weight and volume), and greenhouse gas emissions for PS, paper, and bioplastic PLA (polylactic acid) found that PS uses less energy and water than its "green" competitors over its lifecycle from production to transportation to disposal.

The peer-reviewed study was commissioned by the Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group of the ACC, with the researchers declaring that PS's lightweight was the primary reason that it uses "significantly" less energy and water than comparable paper-based or corn-based alternatives.

PS foam products consume half as much energy as wax-coated paperboard cups and one-third as much as PLA clamshells, the report

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