NYC’s Polystyrene Ban Upheld by Court

Submitted by Mary Meade on July 10, 2018

In 2015, New York City instituted a polystyrene ban which was challenged by recycling firms and plastic manufacturers under the premise that polystyrene is recyclable. New York Supreme Court judge Margaret Chan agreed with the coalition under the premise that the industry had a feasible recycling plan.

Polystyrene foam, or more commonly known as Styrofoam, is widely used as packaging (in the form of “packing peanuts”) and food and beverage containers. The material’s brittle composition leads to small pieces washing into waterways via storm drains where it is mistaken as food by marine wildlife. These small pieces have also created clean-up challenges for New York City waste and park management systems.

Two years later, New York State Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan supports the city’s polystyrene ban, which states that polystyrene cannot be recycled economically. The evidence presented included reviews of information submitted by industry petitioners, consultation experts on post-consumer plastics and economics, as well as visits to recycling facilities – thus demonstrating that the material could not be recycled in a manner that was “environmentally effective and economically feasible,” pursuant to the 2013 statute.

The Court’s ruling will cause restaurants and food vendors to use more environmentally kind materials by 2019. It will also be unlawful to sell packing peanuts in New York City during the ban.

This victory to ban polystyrene is one that many cities across the country are joining. Several cities have completely or partially banned Styrofoam, including Seattle, Miami Beach and Washington, D.C. Here at the Green Business Network, our certified members use environmentally-friendly and natural packaging, if they use packaging at all. Our members also offer several alternatives to conventional packaging, such as Bee’s Wrap and BoxUp. You can reduce your polystyrene consumption by choosing throwaways that are recyclable or compostable as well as bringing your own containers to restaurants. You can also take action by reaching out to your City or County Council to ban polystyrene – the Surfrider Foundation has a list of polystyrene ordinances state-by-state.

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