Styrofoam will be mostly gone by 2019. Chex mix is still ok. (Steven Depolo/flickr)
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that the city is implementing a ban on Styrofoam starting January 1st, 2019, concluding a legal and political battle has been going on since 2013. On Friday, Manhattan Civil Court Judge Margaret Chan dismissed a lawsuit against the city, clearing the way for the ban.
The ban targets food service establishments, stores and manufacturers, banning “Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam food service articles” and “loose fill packaging” like packaging peanuts. The de Blasio administration will be working with businesses over the next six months to transition them to new packaging materials. Here’s why, in the city’s words, this stuff is so awful:
EPS is a major source of neighborhood litter and hazardous to marine life. EPS foam is a lightweight material that can clog storm drains and can also end up on our beaches and in New York Harbor. EPS containers can break down into smaller pieces, which marine animals may mistake for food. The environmental assessment prepared for the bill found that expanded polystyrene particles can wind up in the harbor, and in the floating gyre of non-biodegradable plastic debris that has been found in the Atlantic Ocean – creating a hazard for marine life such as sea turtles and fish.
“I am thrilled that the Courts have finally determined what many of us have known all along—Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is not recyclable,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “If we are going to reach our goal of zero waste to landfill by 2030, we must begin targeting materials like styrofoam.”
Businesses, especially minority owned businesses, have been concerned about the cost of replacing foam packaging. “We hear from minority business owners all the time about increasing costs for them to do business here,” Bronx area Councilman Fernando Cabrera said in an interview with WNYC last year. “Clamshell containers and cups are a staple in ethnic restaurants in my community.” WNYC noted that Cabrera received $39,095 in campaign contributions from Ariane Dart, the wife of Robert Dart, CEO of Dart Container, one of the organizations suing the city.
There will be hardship exceptions available for businesses and non-profits making less than $500,000 a year, so you might still be getting your takeout in immortal foam clamshell containers for years to come.
Back in 2013, the City Council banned foam take-out containers, but the law didn’t go into effect until 2015, after a one-year study to see if polystyrene was recyclable. The Department of Sanitation concluded the containers were non-recyclable. A coalition of restaurant and manufacturing groups then sued the city, arguing that polystyrene was recyclable, and they won the suit. The judge ruled the Department of Sanitation needed to produce another report on the feasibility of recycling these containers. The report came out last month, and the Sanitation Department concluded, again, that “expanded polystyrene cannot be recycled.”
New York will join an ever-growing list of cities and counties across the country that have banned plastic foam products. McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts have also promised to eliminate foam cups, but not everyone is happy with the changes.