NRDC to Defend New York City Ban on Foam Containers from Industry Attack

Organizations associated with the polystyrene industry today filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, challenging New York City's recent prohibition on the use by restaurants and other food establishments of polystyrene foam food and beverage containers.

As a national environmental organization that has long supported efforts to ban polystyrene foam containers around the country due to numerous problems associated with the disposal of these containers, NRDC is stepping in to help defend the city's landmark move to ban food and beverage containers made from this non-biodegradable and effectively impossible-to-recycle material.

We will shortly file papers seeking intervention in the industry lawsuit in support of the de Blasio Administration's December 2014 determination that soiled polystyrene foam food and beverage containers should be prohibited, consistent with legislation passed overwhelmingly by the City Council in 2013. The law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn has graciously agreed to represent NRDC, pro bono.

The New York City ban on polystyrene foam is a sensible environmental initiative that is designed to reduce street litter, cut waste that interferes with the city's recycling operations, remove a major source of pollution that threats our marine environment, and save city tax dollars by reducing clean-up costs.

Moreover, despite industry representations, there is not a single big city in America that has been able to cost-effectively recycle soiled polystyrene food and beverage containers.

New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garicia's determination was fully consistent with the facts on the ground.

An independent study, prepared for NRDC by DSM Environmental Services -- a Vermont-based consulting firm with extensive experience on municipal waste issues -- concluded last December that there are many uncertainties regarding the economic feasibility of recycling soiled polystyrene foam food and beverage containers and that the current market for such containers remains "speculative" and "untested."

The DSM analysis is consistent with the detailed review the Sanitation Department performed during 2014. That analysis, which is the basis for Commissioner Garcia's determination, concluded: "Currently, there are no economic markets in existence" for soiled polystyrene food and beverage containers.

More than 100 jurisdictions around the nation, including San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and Washington D.C. have already banned the use of polystyrene foam containers, having similarly concluded that recycling food-encrusted containers and coffee-stained cups is not economically viable due to such factors as polystyrene foam's light weight and low market value.

In addition, major national companies like McDonald's have ended their use of polystyrene clamshell containers more than two decades ago. And many restaurants and other food establishments in New York City have already switched to food containers and coffee cups made from more environmentally friendly materials.

The de Blasio Administration's determination to prohibit polystyrene foam containers was fact-based and followed substantial review of the options by Sanitation Department staff. The Commissioner's determination was consistent with both city law and the record before her.

The fact is that there are better, cleaner, and cost-effective alternatives to these problematic containers. And we look forward to standing strong, with the de Blasio Administration, against industry's latest attack on this forward-looking environmental protection law.