The healthcare industry throughout New York City has growing concerns over the potential impact of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on polystyrene foam items. First discussed in a State of the City address in February, Bloomberg believes that banning foam products throughout the city will aid in decreasing the amount of waste sent to local landfills. Banning polystyrene foam, which is often referred to as Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, would mean a ban on effective items frequently used throughout hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities in New York City.
Consider this: one case of 8-ounce foam cups cost a New York City long-term care facility about $14; however, a comparable case of 8-ounce paper hot cups cost the facility $28. Even though paper products are generally the lowest-costing alternatives to foam, this ban would still double the current expense being paid by healthcare providers. Other foam service items, such as food containers and divided food plates, have an even larger discrepancy in cost. The annual economic impact of this proposed ban is enormous when considering the thousands of healthcare facilities within the city, and the number of products each uses on an annual basis.
Something else to consider are the needs that foam products meet within the healthcare industry outside of the cost-point analysis. Safety from hot liquids, for example, is a concern when working with elderly individuals. Foam cups and containers provide enough insulation to keep patients safe from burns, which makes it the preferred choice by healthcare providers. In order to protect patients from this while using a paper cup, individuals may need to double the amount of cups used which adds to the amount of waste sent to landfills.
One solution that would allow the healthcare industry to continue using foam products, and yet still provide the opportunity to eliminate it from area landfills, is to implement a city foam recycling program. Dart Container Corporation is a Michigan-based organization providing this capability to cities and companies throughout the US. Dart uses cutting edge technology to compress polystyrene foam to a fraction of its original size, which is then recycled and made usable for manufacturers to incorporate into the production of new consumer goods. This technique not only removes polystyrene foam waste from landfills, but also reintroduces it back into the market as a new consumer item. This would allow the healthcare industry to continue using the foam products they prefer, as well as create new economic opportunities for manufacturers and consumers.