As Waste Builds Up, NYC Outlaws Styrofoam

By Waqas Bhutta’15

New York’s City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of styrofoam containers on December 19, 2013. The ban is set to go into effect July 1, 2015. However, if the makers of the products convince the Department of Sanitation that styrofoam can be recycled effectively, the ban will not go into effect on the given date.

“Most foam ends up in landfills where it can sit for literally 500 years or longer,” Christine Quinn said in The Daily News. “The only thing in the world that lives longer than cockroaches or Cher is styrofoam.”

Styrofoam should be banned simply because it is not safe for the environment. Polystyrene, a type of styrofoam, is brittle and extremely difficult to clean up. It remains in the environment for a long time, at least 500 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Recycling styrofoam is extremely expensive and is a dreadfully complicated process compared to the recycling of paper.

“Foam pollutes the waste stream, making it harder to recycle food waste as well as metal glass and plastic,” former Mayor Bloomberg said, according to the University Herald.

According to sanitation officials, plastic foam food containers add 23,000 tons of trash a year to landfills. Moreover, this trash decomposes gradually. NYC’s recycling program does not accept foam plastics, thus the city spends about $310 million burying more than 3 million tons of trash annually, including styrofoam. Styrofoam’s disadvantages simply outweigh its benefits. Styrofoam causes harm to the environment and costs the city money to bury it. Alternatives can produce the same benefits as styrofoam and are reusable.

“It is mind-boggling that our city, which is becoming a leader on environmental issues, is still using styrofoam when we know it is extremely harmful to our environment and creating massive amounts of waste,” Mr. de Blasio said in The New York Times.

Mr. De Blasio has tried for years to prohibit the use of polystyrene. Mr. de Blasio and parents want schools to switch to reusable plastic trays. He financed a lot of pilot projects to replace foam lunch trays with environmentally friendly models, especially one made of bagasse, the leftover fiber from sugar cane. According to Jean Weinberg, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, these trays break down within 45 days in landfills compared to the polystyrene trays, which take 500 years to decompose.

Over 830,000 foam lunch trays that are used in NYC public schools every day become NYC’s waste. About 4 million trays are disposed in a week and more than 153 million in a school year. According to the NYC Department of Education, since the Trayless Tuesdays’ initiative, public schools are automatically using 20% fewer foam trays, which diverts 2.4 million polystyrene trays from landfills a month. Considering that there are about 4000 students at Midwood, we dispose lots of trays.

People opposed to the ban claim that this is just another move by Bloomberg to hike consumer prices with more costly alternatives. However, several studies have found that costs would not be significantly affected by a polystyrene container ban. According to Michael Bloomberg’s office, their research indicates an average increase in price of $0.02 per product. Overall, replacing foam cups and trays with alternatives would cost $91.3 million, according to the American Chemistry Council.

It is obvious that there are so many reasons that contribute to the decision to ban styrofoam containers. The only reasonable arguments are the two cent increase and the jobs of 1,215 employees in the styrofoam industry in New York. A two cent increase in any product would be lenient compared to the recent drastic price hikes in various products and services such as the subway. Moreover, the $0.02 increase is just an estimate and can be lowered with further research. The jobs of the employees in the styrofoam industry are not necessarily a t risk. The jobs that are to be lost from the styrofoam industry will be brought back with the   industries of the alternatives.

I applaud Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds for their effort to get rid of Polystyrene or foam cups. Dunkin Donuts has a recycling program for their foam products and is working on alternative containers for their food, as is McDonalds.

Though many may not agree with this decision, it is the right decision. New York City has yet to find a cheap yet effective process to recycle styrofoam. If there is no way of recycling styrofoam effectively, the decision to ban styrofoam will stand.

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