New Yorkers must say goodbye to their warm coffee-filled foam cups, to their nicely insulated foam to-go containers, and to their foam school lunch trays because as of July 1st the New York City foam ban went into effect. This ban will force companies, stores and manufacturers to cease their use of expanded polystyrene foam, mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company. There will be a six-month grace period until January 2016 in which no fines will be handed out for the sale, possession and distribution of PS foam.
The ban, which passed in December 2014, comes from the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) investigation and ruling that foam #6 cannot be recycled. This determination is inaccurate; EPS foam is recyclable and recycling foam is a reality that many other cities have implemented. Polystyrene foam is being recycled to create many items that are used every day, such as picture frames, building insulation, interior molding, rulers and pens, among many other household items.
Many other cities, such as Baltimore and Honolulu, have rejected foam bans and have cited the economic burden, especially the burden to small business, as a major reason for the rejection. In declining EPS foam bans, cities have found other ways to handle foam. Denver and Montreal, for example, have initiated foam recycling programs. Alpine Waste & Recycling, a private waste and recycling company in Colorado, recently received a grant from the Foam Recycling Coalition. With this funding, the company will help increase the collection and recycling of EPS foam in the Denver metropolitan area. Through the establishment of recycling programs, recycling foam is an environmentally, economically and consumer friendly solution that can help cities manage their foam output.
New York City’s decision to ban PS foam may appear to be a sensible option, but rather it is an escape route for the city to avoid effectively and efficiently handling its foam output. It reveals a resistance to implement recycling programs; this resistance is overshadowed by an inaccurate declaration that expanded polystyrene foam is not recyclable. Instead, the city passed and implemented a foam ban and by doing so passed a burden on to businesses, manufacturers and consumers.