Citizens of New York City – and citizens nationwide – know that Mayor Michael Bloomberg is no joke when it comes to legal crackdowns. He’ll gladly tax you if you want to sip sugary drinks or smoke cigarettes in public places, and he’s definitely kept the focus on unnecessary vices. This time, it’s on Styrofoam food boxes.
There’s no doubt that Styrofoam is bad for the environment. It’s not biodegradable and it gets mixed in with the recycling, which adds on to the price of the process by up to $20 per ton. Bloomberg argues, “Something we know is environmentally destructive, that is costing taxpayers money, and that is easily replaceable… is something we can do without.” Restaurant owners might not like it, since it’s one of the most inexpensive materials in which food boxes can be purchased, but from a general viewpoint and with the community’s best interest in mind, it might not be a terrible idea.
The ban won’t necessarily ban just Styrofoam, but many different polystyrene foam products. And it won’t just be banned from restaurants; it’ll be banned from stores, too. Needless to say, it’s a controversial stance, but that’s nothing new for the mayor, who is fighting the good fight against obesity. He thinks that this move is one for “public health” that will encourage healthier eating and moderation amongst the population.
What are the alternatives? Many are turning to paperboard take-out containers as a replacement. Paperboard, unlike Styrofoam, is extremely sustainable – they’re recyclable, and are themselves often made from recycled materials. Thus, they reduce waste and make use of old waste as well. They also benefit the food and restaurant industry because they keep contents fresh with their locking lids, resist leaks, and are easily stacked and stored. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that since they are leak-resistant, they’re useable for all types of food: hot, cold, wet, and dry. Therefore, they eliminate the need for multiple different types of packaging.
Regardless of how controversial the change may be, NYC isn’t the first location to advocate it. Due to its contribution to the increased cost of recycling as well as some suspected health concerns, it has already been placed under limits in Seattle and Brookline, and the restaurant companies have adjusted. As with any substantial legal change, there are going to be those who try to resist, but an effort toward reducing waste and improving recycling processes is an absolutely necessary one, especially in an urban center such as New York.