Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City recently announced a proposed ban on foam products (i.e. foam cups) throughout the city, although the consequences of this proposal have not truly been considered.
The ban has been proposed under the false pretense that its implementation would reduce the amount of waste moved to landfills each year, when truly replacing foam products with costly alternatives would create a greater negative impact on the environment.
According to a study produced by Franklin Associates, foam cups produce 50% less waste by volume and generally require 20-30% less water across their lifetime than paper alternatives. [v]
While Bloomberg insists that his proposed foam ban will help New York City progress towards its goal of recycling at least 30% of resident waste by 2017 [i], experts understand that this is not truly the case. In fact, most costly alternatives of foam generate more waste by volume and require more resources throughout their lifespan. This also doesn’t account for the fact that paper cups do not insulate as well as foam, which leads to consumers double cupping or using a paper sleeve, creating even more solid waste. This extra product will only add to the estimated $91 million it will cost businesses to replace foam foodservice items with alternatives. [vi]
- Polystyrene foam foodservice products are not manufactured with chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or any other ozone-depleting chemicals. [iv]
- Using foam makes sense because foam cups insulate better than plastic-coated paper cups. Paper cup users will often stack two cups together to protect their hand from hot temperatures – this practice doubles the amount of waste for plastic-coated paper cups over foam cups.
Contrary to public opinion, polystyrene foam is a recyclable material, and able to be re-used in the production of new consumer goods. Currently, there are 65 cities throughout the U.S. that have implemented PS foam recycling technology in order to remove this product from landfills. [vi] Many alternatives to polystyrene foam are not only larger in volume, but also unable to be recycled. According to the City of New York Department of Sanitation website, the majority of paper foodservice products, the most common alternative to foam, are not able to be recycled. [vi]
Foam foodservice products take up less than 1% of total landfill space and only account for 1.5% of total litter.[i]
Banning foam is not an effective way to deal with litter and will not reduce costs associated with litter cleanup. A NYC foam ban will force individuals and businesses to use alternative products, such as glass, aluminum, plastic-coated paper cups, and wax-covered cardboard, which can also cause litter.
There is no evidence to show that litter-control costs declined in the cities that have already banned foam products because a foam ban will not stop people from littering. According to a 2004 report, by the California Integrated Waste Management Board (IWMB), bans are “not an effective long-term solution.”[iii]
“The amount of litter will not change, only its composition.” – Jean-Michel Cousteau, Environmentalist.[ii]
[i] Jennifer Peltz, NYC Styrofoam Ban: Officials Considering New Restrictions in Latest Recycling Push, AP, February 16, 2013; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/07/styrofoam-cup-container-ban-new-york-city_n_2637670.html
[ii]Graph above: JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU, EDITORIAL, TARGET LITTERBUGS, NOT PRODUCTS, TO CLEAN UP BEACHES, VENTURA COUNTY STAR (DEC. 18, 2005), available at
[iii] IWMB, PLASTICS WHITE PAPER: OPTIMIZING PLASTICS USE, RECYCLING, AND DISPOSAL IN CALIFORNIA, 45 (May 2003), available at
[iv] Natural Resources Defense Council Environmental Defense Fund Friends of the Earth. Statement of Support for The Foodservice Packaging Institute’s Fully Halogenated Chlorofluorocarbon Voluntary Phaseout Program
. 12 April 1988.
[v] Angela Logomasini, Foaming at the Mouth about Proposed Ban on Foam Cups, IWF.org, February 12, 2013; http://www.iwf.org/blog/2790530/Foaming-at-the-Mouth-about-Proposed-Ban-on-Foam-Cups
[vi] New Study Details Economic and Environmental Costs of NYC Polystyrene Ban, PRNEWSWIRE, March, 20, 2013; http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-study-details-economic-and-environmental-costs-of-nyc-polystyrene-ban-199167951.html