New York City bans single-use polystyrene products

American Chemistry Council says city has missed the opportunity to boost recycling of foam packaging.
Recycling Today Staff
JANUARY 14, 2015

The administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that as of July 1, 2015, food-service establishments, stores and manufacturers may not be allowed to possess, sell or offer single-use foam items, such as cups, plates, trays or clamshell containers, in the city. The sale of polystyrene (PS) loose fill packaging also is banned.

The city says the decision to ban EPS followed consultation with corporations, including Dart Container Corp., nonprofits, vendors and other stakeholders. Following the discussions, the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) says it determined that EPS foam cannot be recycled. DSNY also determined that there currently is no market for postconsumer EPS collected in a curbside recycling program with metals, glass and paper.

The determination was made after considering environmental effectiveness, economic feasibility and safety for employees of DSNY and Sims Municipal Recycling, the processor of the city’s recyclables.

The city says Local Law 142, passed by the city council in December 2013, required the sanitation commissioner to determine “whether EPS single-service articles can be recycled at the designated recycling processing facility at Sims Municipal Recycling’s South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in a manner that is environmentally effective, economically feasible and safe for employees.” Under the law, if EPS was not found to be recyclable, it must be banned.

The law allows businesses a six-month grace period from the effective date of the law, meaning fines will not be imposed until Jan. 1, 2016.

Following the announcement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington, released a statement saying the ban would ultimately end up sending more PS to landfills.

In a statement, Mike Levy, senior director for ACC Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group, says, “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. New York City could have surpassed Los Angeles as the largest city to recycle foam packaging at curbside, building on the experience of existing curbside recycling programs in other cities.”

Levy continues, “Burying recyclable materials in landfills is not a sustainable solution for the environment or city residents.

“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,” he adds.

Levy says the city’s decision comes despite the offer by Dart Container to recycle foam packaging collected in the city at no cost. “There’s a commercial demand for recycled foam packaging, including foodservice items—nearly 140 companies process or use the plastic material in the United States and Canada,” he adds.

Michael Westerfield, Dart corporate director of recycling programs, says the company had offered to pay for conveyors and optical sorters to be included at processing centers in the city if it would add EPS to the recyclables being collected at the curb. Dart also offered to find end markets for the processed material and to pay for transportation.

Additionally, Westerfield says, Dart had arranged with Indianapolis-based Plastic Recycling Inc. (PRI) to take in the foam packaging materials collected in New York City. PRI is expected to open up its newest plastics recycling facility, in which Dart is a partner, by the third quarter of this year.

“There would be no cost to the city,” Westerfield says. “We would pay for all the infrastructure.”

Levy says the restrictions will hurt the area economy, notably the foam foodservice packaging companies in the state. “These companies make packaging used by government agencies, restaurants, grocers, schools, hospitals and food establishments in the state and the metro area. Alternatives to foam foodservice packaging typically are between two and five times more expensive.

“We encourage the city to reconsider this decision and pursue readily available opportunities to recycle foam packaging,” he adds.

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