To ban or to recycle? NYC takes on foam
By Bobby Elliott, Resource Recycling
Dec. 30, 2014
Officials in the Big Apple are expected to make a decision soon on whether to ban select expanded polystyrene products.
The decision, which will be made on or before Jan. 1 by New York City’s Department of Sanitation, relates to a proposed ban on expanded polystyrene (EPS) food and beverage products that is slated to go into effect in 2015. Supporters of an alternative plan were given the last year to prove the viability of recycling the material instead of prohibiting it.
"There’s a commercial demand for recycled foam packaging, including foodservice items — nearly 140 companies process or use the plastic material in the U.S. and Canada," Mike Levy, senior director for the American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Plastics Foodservice Packaging Group said in a statement sent to Resource Recycling. The ACC has spun off its own advocacy group, the Coalition to Put a Lid On It NYC, to lead the fight for an alternative recycling plan.
The coalition sent out a press release rallying support for their cause on Dec. 24, noting the Department of Sanitation "has until Jan. 1 to decide whether to embrace recycling or to ban polystyrene." The group also took out in an ad in the Dec. 29 issue of the New York Daily News.
At press time, the Department of Sanitation has not returned a request for comment.
At its core, the plan laid out by ban opponents calls on Dart Container, a major foam manufacturer, to fund the addition of all polystyrene products to New York City’s curbside and commercial recycling program.
"The offer standing before the mayor guarantees that all of the city’s foam products and No. 6 rigid plastics will be bought and recycled long term — at no cost to the city," Michael Westerfield, Dart’s corporate director of recycling programs, told Resource Recycling. "Does New York City want to recycle 100 percent of plastic No. 6 in the waste stream or do they want to ban the 10 percent that foodservice foam represents and continue to landfill the remaining 90 percent of foam which would not be affected by the ban?"
Once added to the recycling program, PS would be sorted and baled by the city’s recycling contractor, Sims Municipal Recycling, and then shipped to Plastics Recycling, Inc.(PRI) in Indianapolis for use in new foam products.
Due to their light weight, large size and relatively low value, foam products are generally viewed as an undesirable material to accept for processing at MRFs. However, recycled EPS can be used in a variety of products, such as picture frames, if the quality of recovered EPS meets the needs of manufacturers.
Tom Outerbridge, Sims’ general manager in New York, did not return a request for comment.
A new study by DSM Environmental estimates Sims would see almost 7,000 tons of food service foam packaging per year if New York brings the material into its recycling infrastructure. The study notes the company could get 8 cents per pound for the material, or $160 per ton, from PRI.
But that same study concludes too many uncertainties stand in the way of the approach, especially with only one secured market for the city’s EPS. "New York City would be implementing a citywide recycling program for a material without a proven track record of recycling success."
DSM was commissioned to perform the study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a noted supporter of the ban.
"The new DSM study adds to accumulating evidence that it is not now economically feasible to recycle soiled polystyrene food and beverage containers here," NRDC senior attorney Eric Goldstein wrote in a Dec. 18 blog post.
The post also points out the mayor’s own past support for a ban. In 2007, de Blasio, then a Council Member, proposed to ban foam trays in restaurants and schools.
As recently as November of 2013, de Blasio reiterated his support for a ban, which was formally brought forward by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
It passed later that year, but included the one-year caveat for the industry to prove that recycling foam could be viable for the city.