Starting New Year’s Day, single-service styrofoam items such as clamshell containers, cups, plates, bowls, etc., and shipping fillers will be banned across New York City’s five boroughs. Why? Styrofoam typically can’t be recycled and does not biodegrade, but instead, sits around sponging up other chemicals and toxins after humans toss it out. (According to American Disposal Services, styrofoam makes up 30 percent of our national landfill content, due to the fact that people really go HAAM on the packing materials.) And then, in addition to choking our landscape and the critters who inhabit it, styrofoam may leach carcinogens into food and drink when heated.
Polystyrene does seem pretty bad, and yet it is also cheap, which explains its appeal to many of the city’s more-than-40,000 food and bev joints. In 2014, the Sanitation Department said it had collected approximately 28,500 tons of expanded polystyrene, and most of that came in the form of single-use food-service products like cups, the Guardian reports.
Now, like Washington, D.C., Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Oakland, and Albany before it, New York will soon stomp out styrofoam. Mostly, anyway. The DSNY’s moratorium on foam use targets “food service establishments, stores, mobile food commissaries and manufacturers.” They may no longer “possess, sell, or offer for use single-service Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam food service articles or loose fill packaging.” Pre-packaged food items imported into the city from pro-styrofoam locales, along with polystyrene packaging for the transport of meats and fish, are excepted.
The DSNY says it will welcome certain small businesses to apply for hardship exemptions if they can show that they can’t realistically afford permissible options (“aluminum, rigid plastics, uncoated paper, glass, and compostable items”). It has also said that it intends to help businesses with the transition.