After months of debate over whether or not to ban expanded polystyrene food service containers in the Big Apple – and nearly a million dollars spent fighting the proposed prohibition – the New York City Council passed a kind of compromise bill.  There will be a delayed EPS ban, but only after industry is given a year to figure out how to collect and recycle the material effectively.

The ban, passed unanimously in the Council’s last scheduled legislative session of the year, will go into effect Jan. 1, 2015, but only after it gives members of the plastics industry a year to prove that the material can be collected and recycled in an “environmentally effective, economically feasible and safe” manner.

“If you could recycle it for real, that would be great.  But we’re not going to wait forever to get the answer to that,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a press conference before the vote.  “If within a year a conclusion is not affirmative that foam can be recycled, it will be banned.”

Dart Container, one of the country’s largest manufacturers of EPS food service containers, and others in the plastic industry, fought to include such a provision in the weeks leading up to the vote.  The company’s recycling chief says his company dropped its opposition to the ban in exchange for a bill amendment that creates a year-long recycling trial.

“We were able to get language added to the bill that we felt would give us a fair shot at recycling,” Dart’s corporate director of recycling programs, Michael Westerfield, told Plastics Recycling Update before the ban was passed.  “If we continued our opposition, the new language would not be part of the bill. At the end of the day, it is a calculated risk.”

Dart and other members of the plastics industry have spent major sums lobbying against the ban.  Last month, Dart offered to pay the City $160 per ton of recycled EPS.

Westerfield said Dart’s plan is to now wait until incoming mayor Bill De Blasio selects a commissioner of sanitation. At that point, Westerfield said, “we will have a meeting to discuss next steps.”

Sims Municipal Recycling currently processes much of the material collected in New York’s curbside program, and the company recently opened a materials recovery facility (MRF) in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn, but it did so without plans to sort large quantities of foodservice EPS. Westerfield said Dart is not currently working with Sims to develop a program, but he believes Dart’s EPS recycling aims make economic sense for both companies.

“Whether foam take-out containers are banned or not, Sims will still receive foam ice chests, egg cartons, meat trays and packaging foam,” Westerfield said.  “Our program will generate revenue for these materials too. Plus, we will buy their rigid PS. At the end of the day, a foam recycling program will generate more revenue for Sims while reducing their landfill costs.”