A diverse coalition of 50 non-profit organizations is calling upon New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to ban polystyrene foam food and beverage containers.
In a two page letter sent today to the Mayor and Speaker, they note that these environmentally troublesome products contribute disproportionately to the litter problem on city streets, in city parks and in local waterways. And the letter concludes that efforts across the country to recycle these dirty foam containers have not proven to be cost-effective.
According to the letter, not a single big city in the country has successfully implemented a recycling program for dirty polystyrene foam. In contrast, more than 100 communities around the nation - including Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, San Jose, Miami Beach and Washington, D.C. - have enacted bans on these foam food and beverage containers.
The groups were joined in their request by two leading members of the Council - Brad Lander, Councilmember representing the 39th District and Deputy Leader for Policy and Antonio Reynoso, Councilmember representing the 34th District and Chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management.
The letter begins a new chapter in the multi-year campaign by New York City environmental groups and solid waste experts to secure legislation prohibiting polystyrene foam food and beverage containers.
In January 2015, New York City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, after carefully analyzing the facts, concluded that dirty polystyrene foam food and beverage containers could not be recycled in New York City in a manner that was environmentally effective and economically feasible, as required by Local Law 142 of 2013.
But her determination was challenged by the Michigan-based Dart Container Corporation and its allies. They have spent lavishly on lobbyists and litigators to protect their economic interests in the continued use of polystyrene foam cups and clamshells here.
A poorly reasoned lower court ruling this past September overturned Commissioner Garcia's determination.
"While the Department is continuing with its administrative processes, the time has come," says the letter, "for legislative action."
The foam containers still being used at some food outlets here could be replaced with ones that are made from more environmentally friendly materials, such as compostable paper, aluminum, or other kinds of plastic that are easier to recycle.
Indeed, many restaurants and other food establishments in New York City and around the nation have already switched to more sustainable containers in response to consumer demand and changing company values.
Mayor de Blasio has historically recognized the environmental problems associated with polystyrene food and beverage containers. For example, as a member of the City Council in 2007, he joined with parents in his district to fight the Department of Education in what began an ultimately successful effort to get the school system to abandon polystyrene lunch trays in favor of more sustainable and compostable paper trays.
And Speaker Mark-Viverito is thought to be sympathetic to getting rid of the troublesome polystyrene containers as well.
A study released the other day by the NY/NJ Baykeeper, prepared in cooperation with Rutgers University and SUNY Fredonia, found that at any given time, 165 million plastic particles are bobbing in the New York region's waterways. The most abundant type of plastic found in the study's samples was polystyrene foam.
The names of the 50 groups who signed the letter to the Mayor and Speaker follow: