Forget Foam! NYC Bans Environmentally Unfriendly Food Container

Call it a takeout-container takedown. NYC is banning those plastic foam containers currently used for everything from cold drinks to hot meals.

Call it a takeout-container takedown, a boon for the environment or, if you prefer, a headache for New York City restaurants. The Big Apple is banning those plastic foam containers often currently used for everything from cold drinks to hot meals, with tepid "doggie bag" contents somewhere in between. The citywide prohibition, which was announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio last week, will go into effect in July.

The decision, while dramatic, is hardly sudden. NYC's longtime previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, set the ban ball rolling in 2013, when in his final State of the City address he called for plastic (aka expanded polystyrene) foam to be punted. In December 2013, the City Council passed an official ban but gave the NY Department of Sanitation a deadline of January 1, 2015, to research possible methods of recycling the polystyrene foam, in which case the material would be given a reprieve. But the department came up empty. As the deadline hit, NYC Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia sent a letter alerting Mayor de Blasio and other city officials that she’d concluded there was neither a market for recycled "dirty foam" nor feasible evidence that it could be done economically on a large scale.

And so this summer New York will become the largest city in the nation to prohibit foam containers, which are already banned in San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore., among other locales, and soon will be in the District of Columbia as well.

To give a sense of the potential environmental impact of the ban, which applies to restaurants, delis, cafes, and food trucks and carts, though there is some wiggle room for small businesses and nonprofits, the Washington Post points out that New York City collected 28,500 tons of expanded polystyrene foam in 2014 alone, the vast majority of it from cups, containers and the like. New York's ban extends to foam packing peanuts as well. And since it cannot be recycled, well, that's a lot of landfill space.

The measure will also open the market to new, more eco-friendly alternatives.

"These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City," Mayor de Blasio told the press last week. "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."

A solid message we can all take "to go."
Amy Reiter also contributes to FN Dish.
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