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Polystyrene foam ban to take effect in New York City on July 1st

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NEW YORK — Get ready to say goodbye to foam coffee cups, cheap beach coolers, trusty halal street food containers and convenient to-go soup cups. Polystyrene articles will now be prohibited in New York City.

Establishments and manufacturers possessing, selling, or offering the use of any foam products will have a grace period of six months to get rid of the landfill-clogging detritus, beginning Wednesday, giving businesses time — until Jan. 1, 2016 — before fines can be imposed.

The ban stems from a decision by the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) that determined polystyrene foam cannot be recycled. As a result of the ban, manufacturers and stores may not sell or offer items made of the material, including cups, plates, trays, or containers in the City.

In an official press release, de Blasio said:

“These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City. We have better options, better alternatives, and if more cities across the country follow our lead and institute similar bans, those alternatives will soon become more plentiful and will cost less. By removing nearly 30,000 tons of expanded polystyrene waste from our landfills, streets and waterways, today’s announcement is a major step towards our goal of a greener, greater New York City.”

“In NYC schools alone over 830,000 foam lunch trays are used every day,” said Christine Datz-Romero, Executive Director of the Lower East Side Ecology Center.  “In the school setting, this ban is a perfect opportunity to implement a shift away from single use to durable items, eliminating wastefulness and teaching an important lesson to the next generation.”

In accordance with the city’s new policy, the Department of Education began replacing foam trays with compostable plates as of May 1. All school meals will be served on these compostable plates starting in September. All summer meals will also be served on compostable plates.

Several corporations have also already introduced more environmentally-friendly alternatives. New York City now runs on polypropylene Dunkin’ Donuts cups as opposed to the previous foam counterparts.

Polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer and earth-friendly material, cost more to produce but the company has no plans to hike their recommended pricing guidelines for its franchises, said Dunkin’ exec Christine Riley Miller. Owners can choose to raise prices if they want to, she said.

But although Dunkin’ Donuts is taking the new law in stride, many smaller-business owners say that the ban will hurt their profit margins because foam is the cheapest material for containers.

In response to this concern, the city advises that non-profits and small businesses with less than $500,000 in revenue per year are eligible apply for hardship exemptions from the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) if they can prove that the purchase of alternative products not composed of EPS would create a detrimental financial burden. SBS began accepting these hardship applications as of March 2015.

Chemical manufacturers and foam food and beverage container makers had fought the ban, arguing that expanded polystyrene actually can be recycled. A spokeswoman for the Restaurant Action Alliance said the group is actively fighting the ban and there is a pending lawsuit against de Blasio, the city’s Department of Sanitation and its commissioner.

“While the City continues to ignore the fact that its ban on foam puts thousands of small businesses in jeopardy, we will continue to remind New Yorkers that the Mayor’s actions are not only illegal but a serious detriment to the environment,” the Alliance said in a statement. “Rather than recycle all foam, the Mayor decided to ban a small percentage of it and send the remaining majority to landfills.

“Over 700 members of the Restaurant Action Alliance, a coalition of the City’s small business owners, have signed a petition demanding Mayor de Blasio reverse the ban. That’s seven hundred of thousands of businesses that will suffer because of the actions taken by the Mayor and Sanitation Commissioner Garcia.”

As for items and shipments foreign to New York City:  Items that are packed in foam and manufactured outside the city, but shipped to be sold in New York stores, are exempt.

New York joins U.S. cities, including Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, as well as Washington, D.C., in banning the foam food containers.