In a blistering condemnation of expanded polystyrene, New York City is finally outlawing many products made from the controversial material.
It's a move that the American Chemistry Council and its Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group calls puzzling, illogical and hurtful to the local economy.
The city decision comes after more than a year of debate following the passage of a city law that required the city Department of Sanitation to examine whether EPS could be effectively recycled.
Food service establishments, stores and manufacturers, starting July 1, will be banned from even possessing EPS in certain forms.
Several city officials, on Jan. 8, lined up in support of the ban, which includes sale or offering of use of single-service EPS foam articles. The ban even includes packaging peanuts.
“These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.
New York becomes the largest city in the country to ban EPS, a move city officials hope will spread elsewhere.
While the ban goes into place July 1, the city is giving a six-month grace period until Jan. 1, 2016, before imposition of fines. And for the first year of the ban, businesses will be warned instead of fined, the city said.
Small businesses and non-profit groups with less than $500,000 in annual revenue also can apply for what the city is calling “hardship exceptions.” Those businesses and groups will have to prove that the purchase of alternative products creates “undue financial hardship,” the city said.
“For too long polystyrene foam has been characterized as a safe, and economically sound choice for packaging when it is in fact a great threat to the city's ecosystem and our commitment to environmental sustainability,” Council Member Donovan Richards said in a release.
Environmental groups also lined up in support of the ban, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund.
The Sanitation department collected an estimated 28,500 tons of EPS in fiscal year 2014 with an estimated 90 percent of the material coming from single-use food service products.
New York follows other large cities including Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Portland and Seattle in banning EPS.
“While much of the waste we produce can be recycled or reused, polystyrene foam is not one of those materials,” Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said in a statement.
ACC, a Washington-based trade group, is urging New York to reconsider its decision, indicating there is commercial demand for recycled foam packaging materials.
“We are puzzled by the City's decision to continue sending alternative foodservice and foam packaging to landfills instead of saving money by recycling foam at curbside,” said Mike Levy, senior director of the ACC Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, in a statement.
“We are completely baffled,” said Michael Westerfield, corporate director of recycling programs at Dart Container Corp. said about the city's decision.
Dart, maybe the most well-known producer of EPS products, had been trying to work with the city to create a recycling program, Westerfield said.
That all fell apart.
“We offered to cover the infrastructure costs,” he said, adding that Plastic Recycling Inc. of Indianapolis, Ind., also had quoted the city a “strong market price” for the material.
Westerfield took exception to the sanitation commissioner's contention that there is no market for the material.
“For her to say there's no market, that's a flat-out lie,” said Westerfield, who added Dart is exploring its options, including litigation.
New York has long struggled with decisions regarding the disposal of its trash and handling of its recyclables. The situation has been more in the forefront for the past 15 years or so after the city closed its last disposal site, Freshkills landfill, on Staten Island.
New York exports its trash, and the city spent the last year trying to determine “whether EPS single service articles can be recycled at the designated recycling processing facility at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in a manner that is environmentally effective, economically feasible, and safe for employees,” the city law reads.
New York looked at whether the city could incorporate EPS into its existing curbside recycling program that already includes commingled metal, glass, cartons and other plastics.
The decision to ban certain products made from EPS will have an impact on how other EPS products, such as foam protective packaging, will be disposed.
“Burying recyclable materials in landfills is not a sustainable solution for the environment or city residents,” Levy said.
“Based on New York City's decision, residents will not be able to recycle any foam packaging — meat trays, egg cartons, protective packaging, foam cups — at curbside, and the use of foam foodservice packaging will be restricted. This will neither increase recycling nor reduce litter,” Levy said.