Buffalo Common Council is considering a ban on expanded polystyrene, or EPS, commonly called Styrofoam. Buffalo’s discussion comes on the heels of New York City’s ban that went into effect earlier this year after its Sanitation Department determined that food-soiled foam containers could not be included in the city’s curbside recycling program in an economically and environmentally effective way.
So beginning Jan. 1, stores and food businesses could no longer offer foam food containers such as cups, plates, bowls, trays and coolers or loose-fill foam packaging called “packing peanuts,” according to the city’s website. Affected businesses have a warning period through June 30, but beginning July 1, establishments violating New York City’s foam ban will be fined.
Now Buffalo lawmakers are considering a similar ordinance or a variation of it, starting with takeout cups and food containers. But Council members will not act immediately, if at all. They will take some time to research the topic and hear from the public and food service businesses before making any decision.
“I’m not going to be looking at any legislation for the next 30 days to give people a chance to write letters, to get with our institutions of higher learning and to really get scientific data,” Council President Darius G. Pridgen said during a March 26 committee meeting. “I want to see the science to know that whatever decision this Council eventually makes that we have the scientific data from those who have studied this.” Stakeholders on both sides have been vocal.
Calling Styrofoam “one of the least expensive containers on the market,” Christine Cassidy told the Council committee a ban would create an economic hardship for restaurants. Cassidy is recycling manager for Dart Container, a manufacturer of food service containers and items, including Styrofoam.
In a subsequent telephone interview, she cited coffee shops as an example. “When a coffee shop has to switch to paper or compostables … the price can go up two or three times,” she said. If shops currently using Styrofoam cups have to resort to putting a paper cup inside a second cup or providing java jackets to protect customers’ hands.
“Either they eat the cost or pass it onto the consumer,” Cassidy said. “If they have to eat the cost themselves, it can eat away at some of the profits. … It does add up throughout the year. They may not be able to hire another person.”
Cassidy shared with Council members copies of about 40 letters from local restaurant owners she said opposed the ban. None of them attended the meeting, but when interviewed later, one of those business owners said he actually would support a ban.
Mehmet Hujdini, owner of Gino & Joe’s Pizzeria in the Main Place Mall downtown, acknowledged that he signed one of the letters, but he was so busy at the restaurant at the time that he wasn’t completely aware of what he was signing.
“I didn’t even know what he was talking about,” said Hujdini, referring to the man who approached him with the letter. He added that he voluntarily stopped using plastic bags two months ago “because we want to support the community.”