The City Council voted last Thursday to ban Styrofoam containers in the five boroughs, but the ban is conditional on whether or not manufacturers can prove their products are recyclable.
The bill, sponsored by Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Brooklyn), passed by a 51-0 vote during the Council’s last meeting of 2013. It would seek to ban items made of polystyrene, such as Styrofoam cups and containers often used by fast-food restaurants. It would also seek to ban the small pieces of Styrofoam used in packaging commonly called “packaging peanuts.”
“Foam pollutes the waste stream, making it harder to recycle food waste as well as metal, glass and plastic,” the mayor said in a statement after the vote.
Supporters of the bill said it eliminates items that are not biodegradable and can sit in landfills for centuries. They are commonly used because the polystyrene padding provides insulation to keep food and beverages hot or cold. In packaging, the Styrofoam provides padding to protect items during transport.
“Most foam ends up in landfills where it can sit for literally 500 years or longer,” Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, quipping that the only things that last longer than Styrofoam in a landfill are “cockroaches and Cher.”
But although the new law would take effect four months after Mayor Bloomberg signs the bill — expected to occur before he leaves office at the end of the month — it would not ban the product immediately. Instead it would take effect July 1, 2015 providing the makers of the products do not convince the Department of Sanitation that they can be recycled effectively.
But a source said it is highly unlikely that will happen.
“[Sanitation officials] do not believe they can be recycled effectively,” the source said. “It’s going to take a lot to change their minds.”
Fidler admitted that much to the Daily News after the vote.
“They’ll have another year to show that, in my view, what is up is really down, but I don’t believe they’re going to be able to do that,” he said.
Nevertheless, Dart Container, the company that manufactures many of the Styrofoam packages that would be banned, issued a statement in support of the bill because of an amendment that was added to the bill that would allow for a review.
“Throughout this process we have negotiated with the city in good faith and we thank Speaker Quinn and the members of the city’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management for making sensible changes to the proposed bill,” Michael Westerfield, Dart Container’s director of recycling, said in the statement. “While it is clear that this legislation singles out and unfairly maligns a quality, cost-effective, and safe line of products, we are suspending further opposition as we believe it is in the best interests of all parties that we turn our attention to successfully passing the recycling test.”
In the statement, Westerfield added that Dart would work with the city to prove that recycling is possible and noted that it was being done in other cities. Dart has previously been opposed to the bill, proposed earlier this year by Fidler, and supported by Bloomberg. Before the amendment was added, the bill would have banned Styrofoam containers immediately.
“A successful polystyrene foam recycling program in New York City will only add to the environmental, performance, and cost advantages that foam has over competing foodservice materials and make it one of the most recyclable foodservice containers in NYC,” Westerfield said.
New Yorkers throw away 23,000 tons of polystyrene per year, though that is only a small part of the 3 million tons of total annual trash tossed away by city residents.