Overcast 41° Good Afternoon
Overcast 41° Good Afternoon

Make foam industry prove recycling works

Michael Bloomberg aba

Michael Bloomberg aba Photo Credit: The mayor speaks at the Association for a Better New York's breakfast. (Mayor's office)

There's just one more thing Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn't want you to have before he leaves office -- those plastic foam containers that keep your takeout toasty warm and your coffee piping hot.

He probably won't get his way. His bill to ban plastic foam containers has been watered down in City Council.

Still, it's a welcome step forward.

Plastic foam food containers are a problem because they don't biodegrade, they cost millions to get rid of and they can lie in landfills forever. What's more, says the mayor's office, unlike foam packing used to ship, say, computers, foam food containers can't be recycled if they are contaminated with oil and grease.

But the container industry -- led by Dart Container Corp. -- is fighting back hard, lobbying the City Council, making campaign contributions here and there this year, and arguing that foam food containers can be recycled.

Bloomberg's people answer that no city on Earth has made that kind of program work.

Cities such as San Francisco and Seattle have already banned foam food containers. And an effort at recycling here really doesn't look worthwhile.

When the mayor's office asked the city's own recycling vendor to run tests, it had trouble separating plastic foam from the waste stream and it couldn't find a buyer willing to take the contaminated foam material.

Bottom line: It would cost more than $70 million a year to set up a separate collection program to recycle foam -- with no guarantee the resulting waste material could be remade into a marketable product.

But here's what didn't go to waste: The industry's furious lobbying of the council.

Instead of the ban that Bloomberg wanted, the council has amended its bill to give the industry a year to prove that foam food containers can be recycled. If it fails, the ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015. The city's sanitation commissioner will decide.

The council is expected to vote next week. The measure should pass. It's better than nothing.

News photos & videos