Following Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ban of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam in New York City, foam recycling supporters are pushing back. The supporters including an alliance of NYC restaurant owners and recycling companies have filed suit arguing that foam recycling is an environmentally sound alternative. Further, they assert that recycling EPS foam is economically favorable to New Yorkers and local businesses. These recycling champions also claim that the city ordinance outlawing foam food containers and cups was not the result of careful consideration by the Mayor, but an ill-informed political stunt.
In 2013, New York City passed a local law requiring the Department of Sanitation to conduct a full investigation of the economic and environmental impact of EPS foam recycling. It turns out that the city did not take this investigation as seriously as recycling supporters would have hoped. The following year Mayor de Blasio asserted that NYC would ban foam due to its inability to be recycled. Not only is the Mayor’s statement patently false, but millions of pounds of EPS foam are recycled yearly in the United States. Recycled foam is purchased and used to create hundreds of different consumer goods such as DVD cases, building supplies, surfboards and more.
In addition, the economics of foam recycling make sense. Dart Container, the nation’s leader in EPS foam manufacturing, offered to pay 100% of the city’s costs to institute a comprehensive foam recycling program. The Mayor turned down this offer, pandering to the politics and disregarding what would really be the smartest choice for the environment and the people of New York City.
For local NYC businesses, total costs to replace plastic foam foodservice and drink containers and trays with the lowest cost alternative are estimated at $91.3 million. This level translates into an effective minimum average cost increase of 94%. In other words, for every $1.00 now spent on plastic foam foodservice and drink containers, NYC consumers and businesses will have to spend at least $1.94 on the alternative replacements, effectively doubling the cost to businesses.
The real discrepancy is that a ban on foam food containers will not keep EPS foam out of landfills. Other foam #6 used by residents will still be put mixed in with other waste and not be recycled altogether. The best way to prevent this scenario would have been for the Mayor to accept the offer from Dart Container to pay for a recycling program. This decision would have created a market for foam in New York where recycling plants would purchase foam from companies and private consumers and create products that we all use.
Hopefully, those who are standing up for foam recycling will succeed in their fight against Mayor de Blasio’s politically motivated ban. Those who support foam recycling know that not only is it the best decision for the environment, but also for the hardworking restaurateurs and business owners whose success is vital to NYC as a whole.