Polystyrene foam: that stubborn, squeaky takeout container substance keeps floating to the surface. Literally, in our waterways, and figuratively, in our politics.
In this latest installment, we have warring City Council bills. One would ban the substance permanently, the other see it enshrined in NYC take-out restaurants.
But for now, at least, a new ban is in effect—a Department of Sanitation report issued Friday found the stuff non-recyclable, and stated that "no food service establishment, mobile food commissary, or store shall possess, sell, or offer for use single service articles that consist of expanded polystyrene" starting on November 13, 2017.
To recap the foamy saga: the City Council banned polystyrene take-out containers in 2013. But the law didn't go into effect until mid-2015—following a Department of Sanitation study that deemed the containers non-recyclable—and was almost immediately overturned. A coalition including groups with a vested interest in styrofoam containers (a restaurant trade group, a major manufacturer of said containers) sued the city, arguing that the clam shells are indeed recyclable. A judge sided with them, and the ban was lifted, on the condition that the city produce another report on the recycling potential of the foam (really).
Fast-forward to spring 2017, and a case of déjà vu: the Sanitation Department issued its promised follow-up report, just as two new bills draw the same battle lines. Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera's bill would see polystyrene added to the city's official list of recyclable materials, while Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander's bill would enshrine the Department of Sanitation's position (again, but for real this time?).
"Clamshell containers and cups are a staple in ethnic restaurants in my community," Cabrera told WNYC ahead of a city council hearing on his bill Friday. "We hear from minority business owners all the time about increasing costs for them to do business here."
(Cabrera, WNYC reports, is one of a dozen City Council members who has received $39,095 in campaign contributions from Ariane Dart, wife of Dart Container CEO Robert Dart.)
Councilman Lander did not immediately comment on his bill, which would allow non-profits and non-chain restaurants with gross incomes under $500,000 to apply for financial hardship waivers.
Testifying in opposition to Cabrera's bill on Friday, Sanitation Department Commissioner Kathryn Garcia stated that, "The municipalities and programs that the Department researched tell a very clear story: Food-Service Foam is not capable of being recycled in an environmentally effective or an economically feasible manner."
Dart, meanwhile, has dug in its heels. Michael Westerfield, Dart's corporate director of recycling programs, told WNYC on Friday that the company will challenge the city's non-recyclable determination in court. "It’s wrong for struggling small businesses, restaurants and taxpayers," he said.