NYC's Controversial Foam Ban Finally Takes Effect

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After six years of contention, the ban is now official. Foam food containers and packing peanuts are a thing of the past.

It's been a long time coming, but New York City's foam ban finally took effect on January 1, 2019. Starting immediately, businesses are expected to stop using foam containers for takeout food and coffee, as well as foam packing peanuts, but they will not face any fines until June 30th. At that point they could receive a fine of up to $1,000 per offence. (We should note that calling it 'Styrofoam' is a misnomer, since Styrofoam refers officially to an extruded polystyrene insulation made by Dow.)

The ban was first proposed in 2013 by mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said at the time, "Foam pollutes the waste stream, making it harder to recycle food waste, as well as metal, glass, and plastic." Mayor Bill de Blasio then put it into effect in 2015, but it was overturned by a New York state supreme court judge, who sided with the disgruntled restaurant industry's claim that "the ban was implemented without fully considering recycling options."

Finally the city won, after yet more drama and debate. The New York Times reported:

"The city tried to reinstate the ban in 2017 after issuing a new report that said there was no 'economically feasible or environmentally effective' way to recycle the material. The coalition sued again, but this time, a judge sided with the city."

So now there is a ban that really should come as no surprise to the many business owners, restaurateurs, and residents who have had six years to wrap their heads around this potentially happening. Exceptions have been made for butcher shops that need the containers for raw meat and for "small business owners who can prove that getting rid of plastic foam containers will have a significantly negative effect on their bottom line" (via Grub Street).

No doubt there will be a steep learning curve as people figure out ways to transport food home without a mess, but greater challenges have been tackled and surmounted throughout the history of humankind. Carrying a reusable container or two can go a long way toward eliminating the need for any kind of throwaway packaging.

This is a positive step for New York and one that other cities will hopefully emulate. After all, if New York is doing it, doesn't that mean it's now the cool thing to do?