Source: USAToday.com, December 21, 2013
Posted on: http://envfpn.advisen.com
Polystyrene foam commonly, but not always correctly referred to by the brand name Styrofoam is cheap, strong and light and used in everything from consumer goods packaging to take-out food containers.
And it’s increasingly unwelcome in communities across the USA.
The New York City Council last week passed a ban on polystyrene foam food containers, as well as the sale of loose polystyrene foam “peanuts” used in packing. Both go into effect July 1, 2015. Albany County, N.Y., passed a law in November banning use of polystyrene foam food containers, joining the ranks of such cities as Portland, Ore.; San Francisco; Seattle; and Amherst, Mass.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray is proposing a ban there.
“Some businesses … are already phasing it out. It’s a matter of pushing it, making it a policy,” said Chicago Alderman George Cardenas, who is co-sponsor of legislation introduced earlier this month that would ban the sale of polystyrene food packaging in the Windy City. “It’s not eco-friendly, if you will. This is just something that needs to be done.”
The bans are the result of decades-long campaigns by environmental advocates, said Andrew Moesel, a spokesman with the New York State Restaurant Association: “Styrofoam is a useful material. It maintains heat. It’s cost effective. But the fact is, it’s not very good for the environment.”
Technically, Styrofoam is a trademarked polystyrene product of Dow Chemical used in such applications as building insulation and craft products, not in food containers.
For foes of polystyrene foam food containers, its problems are numerous. “Polystyrene foam doesn’t break down easily, and it’s easily dispersed by the wind,” creating a litter problem in streets and local waterways, said Garth Schultz, city operations and environmental services manager for El Cerrito, Calif., where a ban will go into effect Jan. 1.
Aside from the litter problem, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy pointed to concerns about the health affects of the chemicals that make up extruded polystyrene foam in justifying the ban. “You get takeout, the steam melts that lid,” he said. “It’s going into your food. Eventually, you’re going to get sick from it.”
Opponents of such bans, such as the American Chemistry Council, have been pushing for communitywide polystyrene recycling programs in places like New York City as an alternative to proposed bans there.
Restaurants themselves are increasingly turning a cold shoulder to polystyrene foam food containers. Fast-food titan McDonald’s Corp. announced in September it would phase out foam cups at its 14,000 U.S. restaurants in favor of paper cups in coming months. It quit using polystyrene clamshell containers for burgers in 1990.
And Dunkin’ Brands Group, the parent company of the Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robins chains, said in its most-recent corporate social responsibility report that it is rolling out an in-store foam cup recycling program at all its locations, but that it hopes to introduce an alternative cup within two to three years.
Moesel said the restaurant industry “generally likes to be on the cutting edge of environmental protection, make it more green. But (alternatives) have to be affordable. Our concern has always been the bottom line, especially with mom-and-pop and ethnic-type restaurants. If you’re running a small Chinese restaurant, you can run through 500 cartons a day.”
Brookline, Mass., which started a ban on polystyrene foam food containers and disposable plastic store bags in November, has so far handed out more than 50 waivers to affected businesses as they look for workable alternatives and work through the stock they have on hand, said Alan Balsam, director of public health and human services
Starting next month, the town will probably start issuing warnings. “Ultimately, we’ll fine people, (but) we don’t want to hurt anybody’s business,” Balsam said. “With the (town’s) trans fat ban, after the waivers expired, people complied. I think the same will happen here.”
Moesel said that as more major communities such as New York City change over, “that will have an impact on the marketplace. That hopefully will ultimately drive down the price of alternatives. We believe this is the future.”