In with cell phones and out with Styrofoam.
Just one day after he lifted the ban on cell phones in city schools, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his administration’s newest “no” – a ban on single-use Styrofoam products such as “packing peanuts,” coffee cups and clamshell containers that some local residents seem to be getting behind.
“Though I rarely agree with him, it’s about time,” said Sunset Park resident Julia Moses, noting specifically the insufficiency of clamshell, or take-out, containers. “Those containers aren’t just bad for the environment – they’re useless,” she said. “I recently had take-out delivered in some and the entire meal was ruined – spilled out everywhere.”
“I’m happy [to see] our mayor doing the right thing,” agreed Ridgeite Jeanette Collins. “I’ve been disappointed in him of late, so [I’m] feeling green in a good way.”
As of July 1, food service establishments, stores and manufacturers may not possess, sell, or offer for use single service Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam articles.
The mayor’s decision followed consultations with stakeholders, including the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), non-profits, vendors and corporations; all of those with which the mayor consulted concluded that the product could not be recycled.
“These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City,” asserted de Blasio. “We have better options, better alternatives, and if more cities across the country follow our lead and institute similar bans, those alternatives will soon become more plentiful and will cost less.”
“While much of the waste we produce can be recycled or reused, polystyrene foam is not one of those materials,” said Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. “Removing polystyrene from our waste stream is not only good for a greener, more sustainable New York, but also for the communities who are home to landfills receiving the city’s trash.”
The law grants businesses a six-month grace period after the law goes into effect – until January 1, 2016 – before fines can be imposed. DSNY, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Consumer Affairs, will conduct outreach and education to businesses across the boroughs in multiple languages during this period.
For the first year of the ban, businesses will be given a warning in lieu of a fine.
In addition, officials said, non-profits and small businesses with less than $500,000 in revenue per year may apply for hardship exemptions from the Department of Small Business Services if they can prove that the purchase of alternative products would create undue financial hardship. Those applications will be accepted starting this March.
In accordance with the ban, the Department of Education will begin replacing foam trays with compostable plates on May 1. All school meals will be served on these compostable plates starting in September, and all summer meals will also be served on compostable plates.
People like Debby Lee Cohen, director and founder of Cafeteria Culture, originally founded as Styrofoam out of Schools, called de Blasio’s decision a landmark one.
“This landmark decision to ban toxic and polluting styrene foam products is a huge grassroots victory for our children and our communities,” said Cohen.
On the other hand, Restaurant Action Alliance NYC stands opposed to the ban, contending that the material is recyclable.
“This is a shocking decision for us to come to grips with. It’s hard enough to make ends meet and now we’re facing added overhead costs as we come into the New Year,” said Cecilio Rodriguez, owner of El Salvador Restaurant in Brooklyn and member of the Alliance. “To turn down a recycling program like this, that is good for small businesses and the environment, shows that the city doesn’t care about small businesses and working families like me.”
Like Rodriguez, some Ridgeites have their reservations.
“I’m glad he’s banning it, but I think the more progressive thing would be to invest in a long term recycling plan for polystyrene,” said Ralph Garcia, “[and to] have the new recycling facilities get the equipment and machinery that can breakdown and/or dispose of the Styrofoam cleanly and efficiently.
“Styrofoam is seemingly safe, a great insulator, and not terrible for the earth when handled correctly,” Garcia went on, “so I don’t think a ban is what’s needed long-term.