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New York City approves ban on plastic foam containers

New York approves ban on plastic foam containers

Take-out food packaging will look a little different in New York City after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Thursday a ban on plastic foam containers and packing peanuts. 

The ban on single use plastic foam products, which goes into effect July 1, comes after local officials were required by law to determine whether disposable cups, trays and containers were recyclable, said Kathryn Garcia, sanitation commissioner for New York City.

The ban was originally proposed by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his final state of the city address in 2013.

New York City's plastic foam prohibition follows similar laws in Portland, Ore., and Seattle. In California, more than 70 cities, including San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Monica, have restrictions on plastic foam container usage.

The New York City Department of Sanitation estimates that there were about 28,000 tons of plastic foam waste in fiscal year 2014.

"We want to be able to make [a] change in New York City to make us more resilient and more sustainable," Garcia told the Los Angeles Times. "We really need to identify things that there are alternatives for that are environmentally sound, and rid ourselves of those materials that are not recyclable and will not have a future life."

In a statement, De Blasio said plastic foam products, also known as expanded polystyrene, "cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City."

"We have better options, better alternatives, and if more cities across the country follow our lead and institute similar bans, those alternatives will soon become more plentiful and will cost less,”  he said in the statement.

These alternatives include compostable plates, which will be used by the New York City Department of Education instead of plastic foam trays starting May 1. Albany County, N.Y., banned plastic foam in 2013, and Garcia said she hasn't seen any impact on businesses that traditionally used the products, such as Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's.

A spokesman for Dart Container Corp., which manufactures plastic foam products, said his firm's products are recycled in Los Angeles. The recycled foam can be made into new products, such as picture frames, said Michael Westerfield, the firm's corporate director of recycling programs at Dart Container.

Westerfield said his company met with the New York City Department of Sanitation four times last year and introduced officials to a foam recycler.  

"Obviously, we're disappointed," he said. "If the city wasn't happy with the recycling program, they could [then] ban, and they went straight to the ban."

In New York, nonprofits and small businesses that make less than $500,000 in revenue may qualify for a hardship exemption from the Department of Small Business Services if they can prove that buying alternative products would cause financial problems. There will be a grace period without fines until January 2016.

Twitter: @smasunaga

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

5:28 p.m.: This article was updated to add comments from a spokesman for Dart Container Corp.

The first version of this article was published at 1:42 p.m.

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