Study claims NYC's proposed Styrofoam ban will add to foodservice costs

March 21, 2013

On the heels of a court ruling overturning the ban on large sodas, another proposal from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration is under fire from some in the foodservice industry.

The proposal to ban polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam, was first introduced in February. The material is commonly used by take-out restaurant operations and is difficult to recycle. Bloomberg said an estimated 20,000 tons of Styrofoam makes its way into NYC's water stream every year, and adds about $20 per ton to the cost of recycling because it needs to be removed from the process.

Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Ore., have similar bans.

While the environmental concerns are front and center with the use of Styrofoam, many small businesses, especially restaurants, have opposed the idea. Packaging alternatives tend to cost as much as five times more.

A new study done by MB Public Affairs, on behalf of the American Chemistry Council, finds that the ban, if enacted, could cost city businesses, consumers and tax payers nearly $100 million per year by nearly doubling foodservice product costs. The study estimates that for every $1 now spend on foam containers, consumers and businesses will have to spend about $1.94 on alternatives.

The study also claims that restaurants in the five boroughs will see a $57 million increase in costs.

"This study shows that for a restaurant — especially a small, neighborhood business – mandating a switch to a higher-priced alternative for basic supplies can have a serious effect," said Andrew Moesel, spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association. "These are businesses that are absorbing higher food and energy costs, and are under pressure from a struggling economy that leaves less money in people's paychecks. It's one more thing to add to the headwinds they are facing. As the process moves forward, we hope that the City Council takes into consideration the substantial economic burden that this or any new piece of regulation would have."

The National Center for Public Policy Research has also spoken out against the ban, claiming that it will not only hike prices for New Yorkers but will also harm the environment. Jeff Stier, from the center, penned an op-ed recently in the New York Post likening Bloomberg's proposal to the "arbitrary and capricious" soda ban that came before it.

"Styrofoam cups and other containers are convenient and efficient packages that keep hot food hot, cold food cold, and help keep costs down," he added. "(Styrofoam) might not always be the right choice, but every product has pros and cons. Just try carrying hot soup in a paper cup. You'll need multiple cups. Those multiple cup alternatives have environmental costs."

The center proposes an alternative solution: cleaning, grinding, heating the Styrofoam before turning it into recycled pellets that can be used as building material, insulation and more.

Read more about supply news.

Topics: Equipment & Supplies , Operations Management , Sustainability

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