By Shanna Fuld
As of now, restaurant owners in New York City will have to package their take-out in non-polystyrene, or plastic foam containers, unless the Restaurant Action Alliance of NYC wins its lawsuit against the Sanitation Department to have the plastic boxes reinstated.
July 1 was the first day of the ban on plastic-foam containers for restaurant owners in the city. Restaurant owners within the five boroughs had to find alternatives when packing up their products to go. Law enforcement actions against restaurant owners who have not made the switch will go into effect after Jan. 1.
Travis Prouxx, spokesman for the Environmental Advocates of New York, said plastic foam does not break down or bio-degrade for what could be anywhere from 500 to1,000 years. The flimsy material falls apart, leaving plastic foam beads to drop from garbage into drains and eventually into oceans and other waterways. The beads enter storm drains, flowing into bodies of water, imperiling the health of marine life that mistakenly consume them and essentially anyone who eats those fish.
The Environmental Advocates of New York is an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.
“There’s really no reason for folks to be nervous about this. It’s been a long time coming. This is going to be a reasonable implementation and it won’t be a major effect on the bottom line,” Prouxx said. He pointed out there are many new bio-degradable and reusable materials that are becoming the go-to for restaurants, and that chain businesses using these materials in bulk will help bring down the prices for the foam containers soon.
Restaurant owners who oppose the ban have teamed up under the Restaurant Action Alliance to advocate for the recycling of the foam. Michael Westerfield, corporate director of the recycling programs at Dart, the company that manufactures the foam, said the material can be recycled into new products using companies that specialize in the process such as PRI, or Plastic Recycling Inc. More than 1,000 small business owners in the city have signed the petition demanding that Mayor Bill deBlasio reverse the ban, the alliance said.
“I’ve watched the fight play out from the very beginning. I was against (the ban) then and I’m against it now,” said Robert Jackson, president of the Restaurant Action Alliance.
Dart proposed a foam recycling program to city Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia. The department and Dart met four to five times to discuss the possibility of utilizing a recycling program that Dart had created using the help of PRI.
After some consideration, the idea was turned down in a written determination from Garcia. Garcia and her department concluded there was no market for Dart’s recycling plan and it was not economically feasible.
Garcia also said Dart had not met the deadline to have the recycling up and running by spring 2015, even though the company said it was not made aware of that deadline and the ban did not go into effect until, July 1, 2015, making those initial foam pieces not ready for recycling immediately.The city’s recycling program, known as SMR or SIMS Municipal Recycling, projects it would need up to two years to install and test the proposed Dart recycling method.
According to Jackson, the program is doable economically, the most important requirement.
Westerfield said if the had city accepted Dart’s plan to recycle all the plastic foam in New York, more materials could have been saved and recycled in the long run.
“We provided the money for the city to sort the material. We’ve been recycling foam since 1990. The reason we partnered with PRI is because the majority of what they get is boxes of all different foam and stuff from manufacturing companies,” Westerfield said. According to him, Garcia had seemed on board with the project and had at first agreed the foam could be collected and sorted.
The way the process works is that after the materials are used by consumers, the materials are washed in a wash center. Plastic Recycling Inc. sells the recycled materials to companies that make tape dispensers, photo frames and items like the rolls in the cash register that feed the paper.
“The demand is there, we’ve got the facility and we’re going to pay for it,” Westerfield said. Dart also contends that the restaurant ban only tackles 20 percent of the plastic foam.
The city has still not banned the plastic foam trays that support meat, egg cartons or the foam that packages televisions.
Small family businesses like Mi Pequeño El Salvador, owned by Astrid Cortillo in Jackson Heights, will need to take great measures to make up for the loss in profit they will see when paying double to triple the price for packaging materials since they cannot use the cheap styrofoam.
Cortillo said for “25 years we’ve been using this production and it’s the cheapest.”
She added, “I’m going to need to pay for an alternative and it could result in losing a worker.”