A possible ban on Styrofoam-like cups and containers in New York City is being considered by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration as part of an upcoming recycling initiative, a Sanitation Department official confirmed.
"We're studying all the different things in our waste stream," Ron Gonen, deputy commissioner for recycling, told the New York Post
. "We want to make sure that everything in our waste stream is recyclable."
Polystyrene foam, sometimes sold under the brand name Styrofoam, has long been the go-to material among restaurateurs because it's lightweight and retains heat well, but environmentalists complain it takes years to break down in trash.
"The [recycling] machinery wasn't really built to handle Styrofoam," Gonen told the Post. "If something is not recyclable, we want to find an alternative for that packaging or product."
Last year, Bloomberg set a goal of recycling 30 percent of the city's household trash by 2017, up from about 15 percent now. A Styrofoam ban would help the city reach that goal, supporters argue.
It costs the city an average of $86 per ton to landfill some 2 million tons of regular garbage — including Styrofoam — per year, according to Gonen, who also said New York nets a payment of at least $10 a ton for recycling paper and about $14 a ton for recycling glass and plastic.
"The environmental benefits of recycling are obvious," he said. "What we're trying to do is make clear to everyone why it's important from an economic perspective."
Restaurateurs urge a more in-depth analysis of what banning Styrofoam would really mean financially.
"We shouldn't start banning products until we have done a more full analysis of the costs associated, not only with government but for small businesses," New York State Restaurant Association spokesman Andrew Moesel told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Now is not the time to continue to put more regulations and cost burdens on an industry that is already struggling to make a profit."
New York City would join Seattle and Brookline, Mass., on the list of cities to ban restaurants' Styrofoam use.
Last year, Bloomberg instituted a ban on large sugary drinks in the city's restaurants. At the time the proposed ban was being voted on, 60 percent of New Yorkers opposed it, calling it an example of a "nanny state going off the wall," according to a New York Times poll.
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