Following the mayor’s declaration that Styrofoam is “something we can do without,” Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn) introduced a bill to the City Council last Wednesday that would ban foam food containers and packing peanuts.
The bill would dictate that restaurants, food trucks, and stores cannot sell or provide “single-service articles” made of polystyrene foam, such as cups, containers, trays, plates and wrapping materials, beginning July 1, 2015.
Fidler referred to the foam ban as “the next step after the effectuation of hard plastic recycling” for items such as toys and coat hangers, which the mayor implemented in late April, when the Sims Municipal Recycling plant opened in Brooklyn.
“Diverting Styrofoam from the waste stream is very important,” Fidler said. He explained that the cost-benefit analysis is complicated, but failing to ban polystyrene foam costs taxpayers about $10 million per year.
Fidler said that there is a “strong possibility” that the ban bill will pass, as it is supported by Mayor Bloomberg, Speaker Christine Quinn (D- Manhattan) and 20 sponsors. However, he would not speculate as to when the City Council will vote on it because members are occupied with figuring out the city’s budget, beyond saying it will likely happen this year.
Fidler said that the only opposition to the ban he’s encountered comes from high-priced lobbyists who spread half-truths, intended to mislead his colleagues — though at least one of those is also opposed to it.
Since Bloomberg vowed to ban Styrofoam in his final State of the City address, in March, the American Chemistry Council, which represents the industry, has opposed the bill and launched PutALidOnItNYC.com. The group organized a press conference denouncing the ban, on the steps of City Hall, last Wednesday, as the bill was introduced.
Insisting that polystyrene foams, as well as plastics, ought to be recycled rather than banned, one protester carried a framed picture of the mayor, while another held a sign, explaining that the picture frame is made of 98 percent recycled plastic materials.
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), who participated in the press conference, said that he opposes an all-out ban and favors trying out a recycling bill that he introduced two years ago.
“This is going to cost 1,500 jobs in New York State and it’s going to double the cost of packaging for our small businesses, our bodegas, our restaurants,” Vallone said. “They were all on the City Hall steps [on June 12]. I didn't organize them, the Styrofoam industry did and they were all out there talking about how much harm this would do to their businesses.”
According to Fidler, none of the New York City recycling plants will accept polystyrene foam and there isn’t a substantial market for the recycled material.
“If it’s not going to happen, I don’t want to wait 20 years for it to happen,” Fidler said. “Styrofoam is perfectly replaceable. No one is inconvenienced by this, except for the Styrofoam manufacturers.”
“In this economy, these businesses cannot withstand any more mandates,” said Mike Durant, the New York State director of the National Federation of Independent Business. “Manufacturing in communities upstate has been in decline for decades. Folks upstate are struggling every day. To put them out of business makes no sense.”
According to Durant, the industry is concentrating its efforts on opposing legislation that would ban its products, rather than finding ways to adapt, should the ban pass.