By: Steve Russell
American Chemistry Council
April 26, 2013
We read with interest Ron Gonen's comments on polystyrene foam and recycling in New York City [April 8 Perspective, Page 7].
First, we congratulate the city on its ambitious and appropriate recycling goals, and we look forward to working together to make those goals a reality. There is a lot of misinformation out there about recycling, so we welcome the opportunity for serious discussion and exchange of data, case studies and other information about the most effective approaches to recycle all sorts of plastic packaging, including polystyrene foam. Several of our industry's representatives have met with city officials and presented options for evaluating recycling PS foam food-service products in the city. Although recycling these products can be challenging, it can be done. Today more than 65 U.S. cities — including Los Angeles — collect PS foam for recycling.
Not only can foam recycling be done, but doing so can make economic sense when considering the complete economic impact of a ban and considering the city's own numbers. Our economic impact study found that a ban would cost taxpayers and consumers in New York City nearly $100 million a year and result in nearly $400 million in lost economic output. The study concludes that most of this cost falls on restaurant customers, but $11 million falls on city agencies, including those serving the elderly and children. According to the city's own numbers, landfilling all foam — not just food service — appears to cost the city $1.5 million (based on the city's total landfill costs of $300 million, and data from the city's website that indicates all foam is 0.5 percent of total waste).
Moreover, alternatives like paper cups aren't collected by the city for recycling, so landfill costs may go up — not down — if foam food-service is banned. The simple fact is alternatives cost twice as much as foam and use more energy, water and produce more waste.
There are real opportunities for New York to get game-changing gains in all types of plastics recycling, and we look forward to helping create those opportunities.