In his most recent State of the City address, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg alluded to a proposed ban on polystyrene foam foodservice products as part of an overall plan to have city residents recycling at least 30% of household waste by the year 2017. While at first glance this seems like an opportunity to increase New York City’s sustainability initiatives, the proposal has been met with hesitation from many small business owners. Banning polystyrene foam, which is often referred to as Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, would mean a ban on the takeout containers and foam cups many of the local restaurants use.
According to Scott DeFife, the National Restaurant Associations’ (NRA) executive vice president of policy and government affairs, the NRA “would appreciate the opportunity to work with the city on the mayor’s latest proposal regarding foodservice packaging and restaurants, developing a plan that is feasible for the industry to implement and cost effective for operators and consumers.” The problem with many alternatives to foam packaging is that their own environmental impacts are no better than that of polystyrene products due to the amount of energy required to produce them. Banning foam containers could mean introducing a new product that may actually have a larger carbon footprint than foam itself.
Another issue small businesses face with this ban is the potential for a negative economic impact. According to DeFife, banning foam in New York City “could create a great burden for restaurants, more than 90% of which are small businesses.” In many cases, the foam alternatives are too expensive for these businesses to obtain; because of this, it’s imperative that city officials understand the full scope of banning an item that has no true equivalent from a purchasing perspective.
One solution to this situation that would allow small businesses to continue using foam foodservice products, and yet still give city officials the opportunity to eliminate it from area landfills, is to provide a way to recycle foam waste. Dart Container Corporation is an organization providing this capability to other cities and organizations throughout the US. Dart uses cutting edge technology to compress polystyrene foam to a fraction of its original size, making the foam usable for manufacturers who incorporate this once discarded material into the production of new consumer goods. This technique removes polystyrene foam waste from landfills, as well as reintroduces a product at the end of its life back into the consumer market. This process creates a positive outcome from an environmental perspective and develops new economic opportunities.
Source: National Restaurant Association