Days are numbered for single-serve expanded polystyrene food service items in New York City as a ban officially takes hold with the new year.
Restaurants and other food service locations as well as stores and manufacturers are no longer allowed to handle such items, but a six-month grace period now kicks in before city officials can start fining those who defy the ban.
While other locations have banned EPS food service items, the fight between the industry and the city has been especially brutal over the years.
The city, under Mayor Bill de Blasio, has made elimination of EPS food service a key part of the city's environmental strategy. Previous efforts to ban the products were struck down in court, but New York ultimately crafted legislation effective Jan. 1 that has stood up to legal challenge.
At the heart of the issue is whether EPS products can be recycled. The city has repeatedly taken the stance that they are unrecyclable, and is doing so again.
"Foam products cannot be recycled, plain and simple, and they have no place in our lives," city Sanitation Commissioner Katheryn Garcia said in a statement as the ban went into effect.
Garcia said banning foam EPS food service items will help the city ultimately achieve its waste reduction goals.
"We have fought for four years to ban these products in favor of reusable, recyclable and compostable alternatives," Garcia said.
EPS supporters scoff at the idea that EPS is unrecyclable, and even offered to create a system to separate and transport the material to an Indiana processing facility for reuse.
Both for-profit and not-for-profit food service establishments, mobile food commissaries and stores are covered under the ban. Manufacturers and distributors are as well.
The band includes single-serve EPS items including cups, bowls, plates, takeout containers and trays, as well as loose-fill packaging, the city said. Prepackaged food sealed before being received by sellers is exempt. Containers used to store raw meat, pork, seafood and poultry sold from a butcher case or "similar appliance" also receive a pass. Foam blocks for shipping protection also are not covered.
The city, in announcing the ban is now in place, repeatedly referred to EPS as "Styrofoam," but that is a Dow Chemical Co. brand name of extruded PS foam typically used in building applications. Styrofoam is typically blue and food service containers, made by other companies, is typically white.
Businesses and nonprofit groups with less than $500,000 in annual revenue can seek exemptions, if they can prove the ban "would create undue financial hardship," the city said.
Starting July 1, those violating the ban will be fined $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third and subsequent offenses, according to the city.