A recent decision made by New York City leaders will soon have many local businesses facing an unexpected economic hardship. Although a year was spent working to avoid this situation, community leaders announced on January 8 that they are no longer exploring options and, instead, have placed a ban on single-use polystyrene foam products. Because of this, hundreds of businesses will no longer be able to use the cost-effective foam products that both consumers and businesses prefer, such as take-away food containers and hot beverage cups. When referring to polystyrene foam single-use items, consumers often mistakenly call them “Styrofoam®,” which is registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company.
Restaurateurs who cater to patrons preferring to purchase food to carry out in foam products, such as Cecilio Rodriguez, owner of El Salvador Restaurant in Brooklyn, will be hit hard by the ban. According to Rodriguez, “This is a shocking decision for us to come to grips with. It’s hard enough to make ends meet and now we’re facing added overhead costs as we come into the New Year. To turn down a recycling program like this, that is good for small businesses and the environment, shows that the City doesn’t care about small businesses and working families like me.”
The new law comes from legislation originally passed on December 19, 2013, where city council members allowed organizations the opportunity to explore foam recycling options for the city and prove the feasibility of such options or face a product ban. Although a structured plan to put recycling programs in place was presented, city leaders opted to forgo any opportunity to implement a sustainable recycling program and, instead, replace foam products with costly alternatives. Beyond the price increase, many business owners are concerned with the quality of the replacement products they’ll soon be forced to use. According to Sonia de la Cruz, owner of the Upper Manhattan food truck Friendo & Comiendo, “To sell hot food in paper is difficult. The paper breaks down, and plastic is almost triple the price.”
Aside from the economic difficulties this decision will place on local businesses, it will also cause the city to miss out on the ability to create new economic opportunities for residents. Recycled polystyrene foam – like that which could have been produced from a NYC recycling program – is a product in demand within several manufacturing industries. The product is considered a high-end commodity because it is used in the production of consumer products, yet costs much less than virgin polystyrene foam. According to the American Chemistry Council, more than 140 companies process or use the material in the U.S. and Canada alone.