New York City bans polystyrene and requires commercial composting of food scraps

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a very reputable ngo, New York City Council voted just before Christmas to ban polystyrene foam food containers and packaging ‘peanuts’ and to require large food establishments to compost all food waste.

There are some conditions on the legislation. The polystyrene bill, passed unanimously, will prohibit restaurants, coffee shops and food stands from dispensing polystyrene foam food and beverage containers after July 1, 2015 unless the Sanitation Commissioner determines that such containers can be recycled in a manner that is “environmentally effective” and “economically feasible”. NRDC claims that other cities – most recently San Jose — have explored whether recycling is feasible for polystyrene foam food containers and have concluded that it is not. A count by NRDC states that nearly 100 cities and towns in the US, including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, have banned polystyrene food and beverages containers. The New York bill also bans the sale of polystyrene foam packing peanuts.

The major focus of the polystyrene ban appears to be to reduce litter. GallonDaily suggests that past efforts to remove polystyrene foam fast food containers has led to their replacement with even less recyclable materials. Polystyrene foam is easily recycled but the economics are not good due to the very small amount of material that is actually present. Coated paper, coated boxboard, and many other alternative hot food and beverage containers are even less easily recycled than polystyrene foam. In addition, they are just as easily littered by those who do not care about litter, though their lifetimes as litter may be somewhat shorter than the lifetime of polystyrene foam litter. What the world needs is an easily recycled or composted hot food container with the lowest possible lifecycle environmental impact and for littering to become a highly socially unacceptable activity.

The composting bill, reportedly passed by a vote of 48-3, will require large restaurants, catering establishments, food wholesalers, grocery stores, stadiums, etc. to arrange for the food waste they produce to be collected for and/or disposed of by composting or similarly sustainable methods starting in July 2015, assuming sufficient capacity to accept such compostable wastes exists or is created by then within the metropolitan area. GallonDaily commends the Council for a passing a bill that should lead to establishment of additional economically viable composting and anaerobic digestion facilities in the New York City area, something that has been a challenge in the past for those in the City who seek to compost their waste materials..

The NRDC report is at http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/egoldstein/proposals_to_ban_polystyrene_f.html

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