After months of lobbying against a potential ban on expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam in New York City, EPS manufacturer Dart Container has offered the city a deal: Include foam in the city’s curbside pick-up program and the company will buy it — and recycle it — on its own.
The Michigan-based company, one of the largest EPS manufacturers in the world, put forward the idea last week, as City Council members weighed the pros and cons of a foam ban, which would only cover foodservice products. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who came out as a proponent of the ban in February, is pushing for the city to pass legislation before incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio takes office in January. De Blasio recently voiced his support for a ban.
According to Bloomberg, and now de Blasio, the city can live without expanded polystyrene. Both maintain it is a difficult product to recycle and one that costs taxpayers $2 million per year to send to landfills. Foam products are not currently included in the city’s curbside pick-up program run by Sims Municipal Recycling, and a recent Quinnipiac poll found 69 percent of New Yorkers don’t want it included, either.
Dart, however, maintains foam can be recycled and it will prove it — if given the chance. Offering the city $160 per ton of collected, sorted and cleaned expanded polystyrene, the EPS giant would ship bales of foam and rigid No. 6 plastics to a recycler in Indianapolis. According to Dart, the five-year arrangement would take the current financial burden of landfilling EPS and turn it into a revenue stream of more than $4 million per year for the city.
Manhattan Councilman Robert Jackson, a supporter of adding foam to the city’s curbside recycling program, told Crain’s New York Business the city would be unreasonable to refuse the offer. “Here’s a company saying, ‘We will recycle it; we will pay you $160 a ton.’ It will get it out of the waste stream, and the city will earn several million dollars. Hello? That sounds like a great win to me for the city of New York.”
Questions remain, however, over the feasibility of Dart’s proposal. Sims, which is primed to open a state-of-the-art recycling facility in Brooklyn this month, would be in charge of collection and sorting the products, a prospect Sims Municipal Recycling general manager Tom Outerbridge explained to Crain’s New York Business might be more complicated than it seems. “If you get the packaging that comes with a stereo, it comes apart into a thousand little beads. I wouldn’t be worried about that coming from cups and trays. But [foam] peanuts will go all over the place, and Styrofoam packaging would get busted up in our machinery and be floating around everywhere like confetti,” Outerbridge said.
In addition, some plastic foam cannot be recycled, thus Dart and its partner in Indianapolis, Plastic Recycling, would be responsible for cleaning a tremendous amount of expanded polystyrene. Resource Recycling executive editor Jerry Powell told Crain’s New York Business the foam recovery operation would be the largest in U.S. history and potentially test the washing capacity of the companies. Powell also seconded Outerbridge’s concerns that foam could pose a major issue to collect and sort.
No date has been set for council members to vote on a ban or its alternatives, although New York’s decision is expected to sway additional American cities faced with the question of how to handle the packaging product.