The ban on polystyrene foam proposed by New York's Bloomberg Administration could cost businesses, consumers and tax payers nearly $100 million per year by nearly doubling food service product costs, and do little to reduce waste, a new study has claimed.
The study - Fiscal & Economic Impacts of a Ban on Plastic Foam Foodservice and Drink Containers in New York City - has been produced by research firm MB Public Affairs on behalf of the American Chemistry Council.
In his 2013 State of the City address, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a ban on plastic foam foodservice and drink containers.
"Now, one product that is virtually impossible to recycle and never bio-degrades is Styrofoam. But it's not just terrible for the environment. It's terrible for taxpayers. Styrofoam increases the cost of recycling by as much as $20 per ton, because it has to be removed," said the Mayor.
"Something that we know is environmentally destructive, that is costing taxpayers' money, and that is easily replaceable, is something we can do without. So with Speaker Quinn and the City Council, we will work to adopt a law banning Styrofoam food packaging from our stores and restaurants," he continued.
However, according to the new study, the total costs to replace plastic foam foodservice and drink containers and trays with the lowest-cost alternative are estimated at $91.3 million per year.
The researchers said that this level translates into an effective minimum average cost increase of 94%. In other words, for every $1.00 now spent on plastic foam foodservice and drink containers, NYC consumers and businesses will have to spend at least $1.94 on the alternative replacements, effectively doubling the cost to businesses.'
The cost of switching
According to the study, City agencies are some of the biggest purchasers of polystyrene food service containers, spending nearly $12 million a year on such items, and switching to the lowest cost alternatives would cost an additional $11 million a year.
The research also claimed that restaurants in the five boroughs would see a $57 million increase in costs.
"This study shows that for a restaurant – especially a small, neighborhood business – mandating a switch to a higher-priced alternative for basic supplies can have a serious effect,' said Andrew Moesel, spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association.
"As the process moves forward, we hope that the City Council takes into consideration the substantial economic burden that this or any new piece of regulation would have," he added.
In addition to its economic impacts, the study found that the proposed ban would not reduce solid waste in New York City and may also produce unintended consequences that will harm the environment.
Despite claims to the contrary, the researchers said that polystyrene foam is in fact already being recycled in about 65 U.S. cities.
However, according to the study, many common alternatives to foam are not recycled at all, and are often heavier and larger in volume, use more energy for production and transport, and take up more room in landfills.
The researchers also noted that the City of New York Department of Sanitation's own website, specifically mentions that paper coffee cups and other paper food service items - the most common alternative to foam - cannot be recycled.
Furthermore, the study said that the alternative products also do not insulate as well, leading to double cupping or the use of a sleeve, which increases solid waste and would further increase costs beyond the estimated $91 million per year.
The study concluded that legislative bans that do not consider the full life cycle impacts of a product and its alternatives have the potential to create unforeseen impacts on the ability to pursue other environmental goals in other areas.
According to the research a ban on polystyrene foam would have serious economic impacts to the City and to state businesses, and most importantly, it would have little to no impact on waste reduction or other environmental concerns.
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