‘Politics’ to Blame for Costly NYC Foam Ban

Although several organizations spent much of 2014 making plans and commitments to reduce the amount of polystyrene foam sent to landfills from New York City, city leaders and politicians decided they were not willing to connect the city with a modern recycling strategy. The ban, which was passed in December of 2014 by then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, bans restaurants and eateries from using single-use foam products, such as take-away food containers and hot beverage cups.  While small businesses will certainly feel an economic burden when forced to purchase higher-priced alternatives to these products, the organizations that put time and energy into developing strategies and tactics to eliminate foam from landfills – all while saving the city money – were simply stunned by the decision and the politics behind it. (When referring to polystyrene foam single-use items, consumers often mistakenly refer to them as Styrofoam®, which is registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company.)

The offer made to New York City leaders to address foam waste was one that should have never been refused. Three different organizations, Dart Container Corporation, Plastic Recycling Inc., and Sims Municipal Recycling, devised a plan to collect, sort and recycle discarded foam, and even pay the city to do so. Instead of accepting this offer and moving the city’s waste removal program into a new generation, the decision to ban foam products was made. According to Michael Westerfield, Dart’s director of recycling programs, “It doesn’t make any sense. We guaranteed a market for the material; we proved to them it could be recycled; it wasn’t going to cost them any money; it would recycle far more products than they’re going to ban… Why wouldn’t they want to do it? The only explanation is politics.” Many proponents of the recycling program note that foam is often vilified in terms of a product that cannot be recycled. Although this is a completely false notion, politicians often see it as a platform to stand on and a way to gain public approval quickly. Patty Moore of Moore Recycling Associates notes that “People don’t want to be educated to the fact that the alternatives [to EPS] are worse for the environment. They want it easy, and politicians want it easy.”

While the New York City ban is still in place, the EPS Foam industry and its members work to educate the public in regards to what is truly possible with new recycling programs. They are working to prove that that misconceptions, such as the claim that there is no market to warrant foam recycling programs or that foam is too contaminated once used to recycle, are simply false or are not true barriers to implementing new programs. EPS Industry Alliance public relations manager, Tyler Merchant, cautions that bans “are going to have more negative consequences. People think they’re doing the right thing with these bans. Unfortunately, it’s very misguided, and a lot of misinformation gets thrown around when these bans come up.”

Foam Bans