logo

NYC eateries protest PS ban as bad for business

By: Tessa Berenson
CRAIN'S NEW YORK BUSINESS

June 12, 2013

NEW YORK — A bill banning the sale of polystyrene foam foodservice products in the city introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg drew fierce opposition Wednesday.

Bloomberg and the bill's supporters said the measure addresses a major environmental issue. Polystyrene foam takes hundreds of years to break down in landfills, and New York City is not equipped to recycle the plastic foam, they argue. But many New Yorkers mistakenly include it with their plastic recyclables, forcing the city's recycling vendors to remove it by hand. Bloomberg estimates that the transfer of the material to landfills increases the cost of recycling by as much as $20 per ton.

But restaurant owners and business leaders say PS foam is significantly cheaper than substitute materials. They urged the city to consider the negative effect such a ban would have on small businesses at a press conference Wednesday.

"I use foam containers because they're great at keeping food fresh and because they're economical," said Rosemary Nunez, owner of La Nueva Estrella El Castillo Restaurant in Brooklyn. "This is just another example of the administration trampling on the interests of the people who create jobs in this city."

A study conducted by research firm MB Public Affairs on behalf of the American Chemistry Council says the ban could cost the city up to $100 million per year, and that for every $1 now spent on foam containers, businesses will have to spend at least $1.94 on replacements. That increased expense could have a serious impact on small business owners, especially in the restaurant industry.

Norman Edward Brown, legislative director of the New York State Council of Machinists, said a ban on PS foam will eliminate 1,500 jobs in the state and called Bloomberg's bill a "charge against the marketplace."

Instead of a banning the material, speakers urged the City Council to explore plastic-foam recycling. "The premise of this bill is that polystyrene foam is not recyclable, and that is wrong," said Richard Master, CEO of MCS Industries Inc.

Master's company makes picture frames and architectural moldings composed of 98 percent recycled foam material. He estimated companies like his that use recycled polystyrene foam could easily absorb all the annual plastic-foam waste in New York City.

"Polystyrene foam can be, and is, a green material," said Brown, who urged Bloomberg to look to cities such as Los Angeles that require recycling of plastic foam. He said a majority of council members have yet to take a position on the bill.

Critics of polystyrene say it is far less economical to collect, separate and recycle than are mixed paper, rigid plastic, and metal, all of which the city collects separately from regular trash and delivers to private recyclers.