Foam Is So Last Year

NYC’s Foam Ban Takes Effect on New Year’s Day


Alexander Thorp

Mary Tyrrell ’19 and Helena Macrigiane ’19 enjoy their lunch using one of the alternatives to foam containers.

Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS), commonly known as single-use foam, is no longer going to be a NYC fast food staple. On January 1st, 2019, NYC implemented its city-wide ban on single-use styrofoam products, which include but are not limited to cups, bowls, plates, takeout containers, trays, and packing peanuts (foam packaging) made of polystyrene foam. While this ban took effect on the first day of the new year, businesses have until June 30th, 2019 as a warning period to get rid of polystyrene products or find alternatives.

“We’re ending this dirty practice so we can ensure a cleaner, fairer future for our children,” Mayor de Blasio publicly stated. With the goal of achieving zero waste by 2030, the administration under Mayor de Blasio carried out the proposal for this ban, which first began in 2013 under former mayor Michael Bloomberg. The city argued, as one of its main assertions, that single-use foam is a non-biodegradable hazard to our environment and health, clogging up landfills, leaking carcinogens into our food when heated, and harming our animals who mistake it as food or nesting material.

“The use of foam, from packaging to my own school lunch, is so familiar and prevalent that I’m glad that the mayor has announced a ban on it entirely. Styrofoam takes hundreds of years to degrade, and our city has millions of people who use and dispose of it. It’s a big step towards reducing waste that is very ‘environmentally unfriendly,’ as the mayor says,” Ellen Ren ’19 said.

Small businesses and manufacturers, however, retaliated with a lawsuit, claiming that it is feasible to recycle the material and a cost-effective substance is needed to accomodate for their financial limitations.

After many consultations and examinations with vendors and businesses, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) deemed the material unrecyclable as it is too costly and requires many more precautions to recycle the material than to manufacture it. The DSNY also stated that there is currently no recycling program for post-consumer expanded polystyrene. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed and allowed the city to proceed with the ban this year. Many issues that prevented this ban from being implemented were finally addressed after six long years. Businesses that earn less than $500,000 that can prove they cannot afford any other alternative options are welcome to apply for an exemption, while all other businesses will be fined up to $1,000 if found in possession of this material after June 30th, 2019.

While NYC may have seemed to be the first city to pioneer this movement, cities such as Minneapolis, Miami Beach, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles have already set these laws in place for quite some time.

“We’re ending this dirty practice so we can ensure a cleaner, fairer future for our children,” said Mayor de Blasio.

“One small change such as banning styrofoam in NYC, a city with more than 8.6 million people alone, can have a huge positive impact for our environment by reducing tons of trash,” Alysa Chen ’19 said. “It is a very positive change that will slowly make NYC a more sustainable city. People have to realize that this isn’t an attack on them, but rather a way to live more sustainably.”

With the possibility of drastically decreasing the amount of landfill by up to 30,000 tons of waste in our city’s streets, waterways and landfills, concerns have also been raised. Businesses in the restaurant and packing industry may retaliate because they are unable to overcome their financial limitations with the alternatives. There are also currently no plans for police enforcement once the warning period ends.

Banning single-use foam in NYC will most likely give other cities the incentive to ban foam and other single-use items such as plastic straws, cups, and plates because New York has historically been a pioneer of change since it has one of the largest urban populations in the world; 30% of our national landfill is made up of single-use foam and 1,369 tons of styrofoam are disposed into our landfills every day. 60 million pounds of styrofoam have been disposed prior to this ban as well. While we may have realized the result of our indifference to this issue recently, other cities in California and countries in Europe, Central America, and Asia have already realized the dire consequences of climate change and environmental pollution.

“They have enacted laws against many things such as banning plastic bags and straws,” said Chen.

While NYC took its first step in the new year to promote safer and cleaner measures to protect our environment, it is up to the people to maintain this new enactment to have true results.