NYC Bans Foam Packaging, But Industry Group Wins Concession

While an association and major manufacturer lobbied hard against New York City's ban on "environmentally destructive" polystyrene foam packaging, the company hopes that a compromise which allows them to prove the material can be recycled can buy them some time.

While an association and major manufacturer lobbied hard against New York City’s ban on “environmentally destructive” polystyrene foam packaging, the company hopes to buy some time with a compromise that allows it to prove the material can be recycled.

Can polystyrene be recycled on a large scale? That’s a question weighing on the minds of Dart Container Corp. right now.

The major container manufacturer, along with the American Chemistry Council (ACC), lost a major legislative battle last week, as New York City banned the ubiquitous plastic foam used in everything from packaging to plastic cups. But the decision—capping one of Michael Bloomberg’s final initiatives as the city’s mayor—came with a little wiggle room for Dart and ACC. The company has more than a year to prove the material can be recycled. More details:

About the ban: The ban, which was passed unanimously last week, prohibits retailers, food carts, and restaurants from using expanded polystyrene, a thermoplastic product derived from petroleum. The city argued that  the products were nearly impossible to recycle and were filling up landfills at high rates. Bloomberg pushed for the ban in a February State of the City speech, saying the material is “something that we know is environmentally destructive and that may be hazardous to our health, that is costing taxpayers money and that we can easily do without, and is something that should go the way of lead paint.” For its part, ACC, which funded a study [PDF] showing that New York City is responsible for $97.1 million in plastic foam food container sales each year, argues that the cost of alternative options would be significantly higher for businesses. The ban is not unique: Other cities, including San Francisco and Portland, already have them, the Bloomberg wire service reports.

Room for a plan B: Dart, which had pushed hard to block the ban—even going so far as to offer to pay the city $160 per ton to recycle the material in its own facilities—ultimately dropped its opposition to the bill last week after a compromise was reached. The company, which makes half of its revenue from polystyrene sales, will get a year to prove that the material can be recycled and resold in a commercially viable way. This may prove a challenge, however, as plastic foam breaks down differently from paper or other kinds of plastics and can be difficult to clean. Dart has launched a site, “Foam Facts,” to explain the potential processes for recycling the material.

The bill was one of many the council passed last Thursday. The city also extended a ban on public smoking to e-cigarettes and required food establishments to compost their food waste.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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