Restaurateurs in New York City were recently dealt a devastating blow when a ban on commonly used foam products went into effect. The piece of legislation – originally introduced by former mayor Michael Bloomberg and carried through by Mayor Bill de Blasio – prohibits the use of polystyrene foam items in restaurants and eateries, citing an unsupported and vague theory that they are bad for the environment. The New York Restaurant Action Alliance (RAA) has pulled together restaurant owners to challenge the unfounded reasoning behind the ban as well as disclose the major impact it will have on their small businesses. Polystyrene foam items, often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, make up many forms of single-use foodservice products such as take-away food containers and hot beverage cups.
The RAA states that more than 1,000 small business owners from all five NYC boroughs have stepped forward and signed a petition demanding that Mayor de Blasio reverse the ban on foam products. Several of those who signed the petition believe that by pushing the ban into effect, Mayor de Blasio has gone back on his campaign promise to support the city’s small business infrastructure. Foam products are recyclable—and city officials had an opportunity to implement a city-wide foam recycling program—a fact that has caused many critics to believe that the basis of the ban had nothing to do with environmental protection, but rather political agendas. According to RAA leader and former city council member Robert Jackson, “The Restaurant Action Alliance believes steadfastly that the city’s decision to ban foam was based not on evidence or fact but on fulfilling political agendas. Foam is 100 percent recyclable, and there is a robust national market for recycling the takeout cups and containers tens of thousands of New Yorkers use every day. Denying foam’s recyclability is like denying the sky is blue; it just doesn’t make sense.” Many business owners hoped that their use of foam products plus the desire of city leaders to clean up their constituents’ environmental impact would result in the implementation of a foam recycling program; however, that has not yet been made a priority.
Beyond the fact that the ban will eliminate many opportunities that come along with a foam recycling program (for instance, the complete removal of certain products from landfills, new job opportunities and a new revenue stream for the city), the ban will also hit small businesses with an economic impact that could be devastating to their bottom line. Some small business owners have reported that the high-priced alternatives to foam products could double their costs for containers and force them to lay off employees, raise the prices of their food or close their businesses. Many restaurant and small business owners state they consider the ban to be a true threat to their livelihood.