Senators urge New York City mayor to end single-use polystyrene ban

As of July 1, 2015, the city's food service establishments will not be able to possess, sell or offer single-use foam items.

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June 1, 2015
Recycling Today Staff
Legislation & Regulations Plastics

Two New York state senators have called on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to reverse his plan to ban single-use polystyrene (PS) products.

Sens. Betty Little and John J. Bonacic are asking de Blasio to embrace a recycling plan they say will save jobs in their districts without costing city taxpayers money.

In January, de Blasio's administration announced that as of July 1, 2015, the city's food service establishments, stores and manufacturers may not be allowed to possess, sell or offer single-use foam items, such as cups, plates, trays or clamshell containers. The sale of PS loose fill packaging also is banned.

The law allows businesses a six-month grace period from the effective date of the law, meaning fines will not be imposed until Jan. 1, 2016.

Little, who represents Genpak, a manufacturer of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, says the company faces significant layoffs because of the pending ban. “It’s very unfortunate that Mayor de Blasio has chosen to pursue the ban on foam food service products in New York City when he knows full well that his actions put jobs in our districts at risk.”

She continues, “When I served on the Warren County Board of Supervisors, I led the effort to increase recycling. Foam food service products are not only heat and bacteria resistant, they are recyclable and cost effective. I would hope he takes all of this into consideration and reverses course on this bad idea.”

The city says the decision to ban EPS followed consultation with corporations, including Dart Container Corp., nonprofits, vendors and other stakeholders. Following the discussions, the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) says it determined that EPS foam cannot be recycled. DSNY also determined there currently is no market for postconsumer EPS collected in a curbside recycling program with metals, glass and paper.

The determination was made, the city says, after considering environmental effectiveness, economic feasibility and safety for employees of DSNY and Sims Municipal Recycling, the processor of the city’s recyclables.

The city says Local Law 142, passed by the city council in December 2013, required the sanitation commissioner to determine “whether EPS single-service articles can be recycled at the designated recycling processing facility at Sims Municipal Recycling’s South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in a manner that is environmentally effective, economically feasible and safe for employees.” Under the law, if EPS was not found to be recyclable, it must be banned.

The New York senators say the ban would devastate New York state manufacturers, such as Genpak, with headquarters in Glens Falls and a manufacturing plant in Middletown. The owners of the company have estimated it would be forced to lay off 25 percent of its personnel in the short term while saying the entire workforce at the plant could be lost if other markets are not added to replace the New York City losses.

Bonacic, who represents Middletown, says, “The mayor could have chosen to recycle foam products but instead decided to send more than 20,000 tons of plastics and foam into landfills. This is a serious environmental issue, which also will have a severe impact on jobs in my community, and the mayor’s decision is a lose-lose for both.”

In April, a group of small business owners, along with foam manufacturers, including Genpak, and recycling companies, sued the city in an effort to overturn the ban.

In adopting the ban, the mayor rejected an offer from Mason, Michigan-based Dart Container Corp., a foam manufacturer, to provide infrastructure designed to implement curbside recycling for 100 percent of foam products in the city while ensuring what it calls a ready buyer for every piece of recycled foam for more than five years.

The plan would not have cost taxpayers money, the senators say, and would have generated new revenue for the city and produced saving by reducing the amount of material going into landfills.

Michael Westerfield of the Dart Container Corp., which has joined the Restaurant Action Alliance in its lawsuit against de Blasio, says, “After proving that foam is not only recyclable but a market driver, the city still decided to ban foam food service products. The plan would have maintained zero cost to taxpayers and added millions to the city’s coffers. Beyond that, it’s simply unthinkable that the mayor would choose to landfill over recycle. Reverse the ban, Mr. Mayor, and we will live up to every element of the proposal we made last year. It’s a win for everyone.”