A proposal to eliminate plastic foam takeout containers in New York City was met with criticism Wednesday by restaurateurs who said a ban on the ubiquitous containers would drive up costs and potentially put them out of business.
Around 40 opponents bearing signs reading "Put a lid on it NYC" rallied on the steps of City Hall before a City Council meeting in which the ban on polystyrene foam containers was introduced.
Polystyrene foam is a staple for street vendors, delis and restaurants that sell food to go because it's lightweight and heat-retaining. But once it's thrown in the trash it can take years to break down in landfill sites.
Currently 23,000 tons of foam per year is thrown out in the city. Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants New York to join West Coast cities like San Francisco and Seattle as plastic foam-free.
But not all New Yorkers are as keen on the idea. Attendees of the City Hall rally said alternative materials such as aluminum are much more expensive.
"This will obligate us to raise prices," said Jonny Falcones, the owner of La Nueva Estrella el Castillo in Brooklyn. "We will most likely lose customers and go out of business."
Speakers at the rally also said the ban would threaten 1,500 jobs in the state's polystyrene industry. James Reilly, who runs food packaging factory GenPak, pointed out that alternatives like paper cups are not recyclable and asked legislators to consider recycling alternatives rather than an outright ban on polystyrene containers. The American Chemistry Council said in a statement that the proposal has the potential to cost businesses and taxpayers $100 million a year and will do little to alleviate the problem of solid waste.
"Polystyrene is a problem, and I commend the mayor for bringing it to our attention," said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. "This just isn't the way to do it."
City Councilman Lewis Fidler, who's sponsoring the proposal at Bloomberg's request, said that it's not economically feasible to recycle New York's polystyrene and the ban would save the city $10 million a year by lowering landfill expenses and increasing recycling revenue from using other materials.
"Don't be misled: This bill is green, both financially and for our environment," the Brooklyn Democrat told colleagues as he described the measure.
Bloomberg proposed the plastic foam ban in his State of the City speech in February. The bill will have to be passed by the City Council to become law.