Experts Weigh-In on Proposed New York City Foam Ban

The National Center for Public Policy Research pulled together field experts to express their concerns of the recent proposal to ban polystyrene foam in New York City introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  In a letter addressed to city officials, three specialists discuss the environmental and economic impacts of banning foam foodservices products. Polystyrene foam, often referred to as Styrofoam®, is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company and makes up many forms of foodservice items used throughout New York City such as takeout containers and cups.

As stated in the letter penned to New York City Council Members on March 11 by Jeff Stier of The National Center for Public Policy Research, Julie Gunlock of the Independent Women’s Forum, and Angela Logomasini of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “Styrofoam might not always be the right choice for all food-service items, but every product carries trade-offs.” For example, the three specialists consider the waste trade-offs created by banning polystyrene foam. In order for a consumer to experience the same type of insulation of hot foods provided by a single foam cup they would need to use several paper cups. Not only does the paper alternative fail to provide this added benefit of foam, but it also requires more energy to be produced. In fact, according to the letter, replacing one foam cup with three paper cups could require 36 times more water for production.

Another trade-off the letter discusses is the potential negative economic impact on individuals within the city. According to the letter, “while [banning foam] won’t protect the environment or help the City meet recycling goals, it will unnecessarily increase costs for restaurants, facilities, and consumers.”  It is expected that this ban would be specifically hard on small business owners, who would in turn be forced to pass along the burden of increased packaging costs to their patrons.  Ultimately, implementing the proposed foam ban could result in higher costs of products to city residents.

Stier, Gunlock, and Logomasini also note that is important to debunk the myth that there is no need for recycled polystyrene foam.  In fact, there is a demand for the material for use in construction items and consumer goods.  Companies such as Dart Container Corporation make re-using polystyrene foam possible by compressing the foam to a fraction of its original size so that manufacturers can incorporate the material into the production of new consumer goods. Recycling foam could be a viable alternative to the proposed foam ban.  Furthermore, the specialists sign-off on the note to city officials with the statement: “Ultimately, consumers and businesses should be free to decide what type of packing meets their needs.”

Source: The National Center for Public Policy Research

Foam Bans