By Alec Italiano, contributing writer
Potential ban on Styrofoam packaging has suppliers pitching an alternative plan
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg may soon be passing the torch to incumbent mayor Bill de Blasio, but he just might have the energy for one last reform before his time is through. Bloomberg’s mission: ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) containers in the city because of its burden on the environment.
Commonly known as Styrofoam, EPS is a popular packaging material for eateries because it is inexpensive and insulates food well. Other food packaging alternatives, like paper and plastic, do not insulate food nearly as well and are not as cost effective as EPS. However, Styrofoam containers are difficult to recycle after they have been contaminated with food waste. “Dirty foam” — foam containers having been used for food — are coated with leftover food, food waste, grease, and condiments are not desired by recycling companies and few companies are willing to take on the expensive task of refitting it for future use. “Clean foam,” used to package televisions and other electronics, is much easier to recycle, giving it higher market value. The commodity has an escalating value, as indicated by projections of the EPS market reaching $19 billion by 2018. A ban in NYC could significantly shift the market value.
Michigan-based foam cup maker, Dart, is putting forth efforts to defy, or at least delay Bloomberg’s proposal. Dart’s alternative proposal allows city trucks to collect EPS waste material with other recyclables, drop the waste products off at the Sims recycling plant — Dart’s recycling business partner in Brooklyn — where a new $500,000 sorting machine will bail the waste and put it on a train to Indianapolis. There, the EPS waste can be washed and resold to packagers worldwide. Included in Dart’s proposal is a five year, locked price of $160 per ton of dirty EPS.
Already amendments have been made to the proposal from Dart. One suggestion allows Dart all of 2014 to prove its plan is viable. If the company fails, the EPS ban in New York would take effect July 1, 2015. Small businesses and non-profits may also apply for waivers and no fines would be given in the first year. If a ban were to be implemented in a major metropolitan region, like NYC, the packaging world would feel a significant shift.
The Styrofoam ban proposal is not a unique idea on Bloomberg’s behalf. Many cities on the West Coast, like San Francisco and Los Angeles, have already experimented with a bans on EPS. Los Angeles tried to recycle EPS, but the program ended due to problems with contamination. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently added EPS to the list of possible carcinogens.
Incumbent Mayor de Blasio has been adamant against EPS in the past. Even if an EPS ban is tabled when he is sworn in, the risk of the ban still exists for both suppliers and buyers alike — lending potential to significantly dent the estimated $97.1 million already spent on foam containers in NYC. This means a huge market and big dollars await the company that creates an innovative solution to the issues facing EPS.