New York wages war on EPS food packaging

By Jenni Spinner contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: New york city

New York City is considering a ban on the use of EPS food packaging.
New York City is considering a ban on the use of EPS food packaging.
Outgoing New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is gunning for a ban on EPS food containers before he leaves office January 1.

Bloomberg’s ban, first proposed in February 2013, would bar New York City restaurants from using expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging for takeaway dishes.

While the material is popular with eateries for its low price tag and thermal properties, eco advocates claim the stuff is a bear to recycle. Most municipalities do not offer curbside recycling of the material.

What's more, styrene could pose a threat to human health. The US Department of Health and Human Services recently added the substance to its roster of potential carcinogens.

Continued popularity

Despite the arguments lobbed against EPS claiming it is not eco-friendly, it remains a popular packaging material used in meat trays, hot- and cold-beverage cups, instant-noodle cups.

Sales of EPS is expected to continue increasing, hitting as high as $19bn by 2018. Much of that amount is headed toward other uses (insulation in refrigerators, protective packaging for electronics, etc.), but a significant chunk is used for food containers.

Clock's ticking

Bloomberg doesn’t have much time to lower the boom on EPS packaging. The incumbent will retire and pass the baton to Bill de Blasio on January 1.

Packaging producers, understandably, are square against the ban. Firms have proposed that instead of kicking the material out of NYC, city officials should step up efforts to improve recycling.

Alternative proposal

Michael Westerfield, recycling guru for Michigan-based foam cup maker Dart has launched a counterstrike against Bloomberg’s ban. The company has suggested that city trucks collect EPS, recycling partner Sims Metal  Management separate it from the waste stream, and Dart would obtain equipment to wash and dry it.

Then, the packaging company would purchase the reclaimed EPS from the city for a tidy sum. Dart hopes the prospect of minimizing city involvement while offering up a possible profit will appeal to officials.

What's next

The city council is considering the ban next week. While the topic most likely will be tabled until de Blasio takes office, odds are the anti-EPS measure will at least be considered.

The incoming mayor has a history of opposing EPS—he pushed a ban to remove foam trays from public school cafeterias when he served as city councilman. For that reason alone, NYC eateries might want to start exploring EPS alternatives before ringing in the new year.

Related topics: Processing & Packaging

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