It's been less than a month since the city's ban on polystyrene foam went into effect, and now the Restaurant Action Alliance (RAA) is petitioning to have the ban revoked, arguing that the foam of clam shell takeout containers and packing peanuts is indeed recyclable, and that by targeting foam specifically, the city is putting undue hardship on small business owners.
"Denying foam's recyclability is like denying the sky is blue. It just doesn't make sense," said RAA president Robert Jackson (perhaps, but that doesn't mean it's very cost effective, or feasible on a large scale).
The city is having none of the RAA's argument. In December 2013, the city council okayed a one-year recycling test to determine whether recycling foam is "feasible and economical." According to a mayoral release from January, announcing the ban:
After consultation with corporations, including Dart Container Corporation, non-profits, vendors and other stakeholders, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY), has determined that Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Foam cannot be recycled, which led to the ban.
Either way, it's indisputable that polystyrene is not biodegradable, and has been clogging our landfills for quite some time. “Most foam ends up in landfills where it can sit for literally 500 years or longer,” said Christine Quinn in December 2013. “The only thing in the world that lives longer than cockroaches or Cher is styrofoam.”
Undeterred, the RAA brought a lawsuit against the Mayor and the Department of Sanitation in April, claiming that Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia made an arbitrary ruling that styrofoam cannot be recycled.
Now, the group reports that they've got more than 1,000 signatures from small business owners, who believe that they will be unfairly impacted by the ban, since they'll have to purchase more expensive cups and food containers.
"Polystrene retains heat, so it's good for keeping food hot. For drinks, it retains cold," said Jackson. "And, for restaurants to switch to something that's going to be much more expensive, it's not good for them."
These restaurant and deli owners are currently in the first month of a six month grace period to arrange for an alternative to foam. During the first year of the ban, businesses will receive a warning, rather than a fine, for using the banned material. Meanwhile, any business making $500,000 a year or less can apply to be exempt from the ban.
"In order to protect businesses who may experience undue financial hardship due to the ban, we have made the option of a waiver available," said mayoral spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh.
Jackson is skeptical. "Small business owners have a hard time just running their businesses." Applying for the exemption would, apparently, be "just too hard." Sorry, planet!