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Styrofoam Maker Offers to Cover NYC's Recycling Bill

Styrofoam Maker Offers to Cover NYC's Recycling Bill
Image credit: Dan Evans/News-Sentinel

Just weeks before New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is likely to approve a city-wide ban on polystyrene cups and food trays, the world’s largest manufacturer of foam products has proposed an alternate solution.

If city trucks would collect plastic foam from residents, Dart Container would clean food waste from the foam, then buy it for $160 per ton, according to Crain’s New York Business. Dart would then truck the items to a recycling plant in Indiana. 

Dart, which stands to lose a big chunk of business if New York City approves the ban, hopes to convince the City Council that the plan is not only an environmentally friendly solution, but an economically savvy choice. The city currently pays $2 million a year to put polystyrene in landfills. Dart’s purchase of the items to recycle would reportedly provide the city with a $4 million revenue stream.

Dart did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Historically, the difficulties associated with cleaning and transporting high-volume, low-weight items have hampered Styrofoam and other polystyrene item’s ability to be recycled. More than 2.5 million tons of polystyrene are dumped into landfills each year, according to Stanford Alumni Magazine

Related: Tips on How to Make Your Supply Chain More Environmentally Friendly

In response to the environmental damages associated with polystyrene, Mayor Bloomberg suggested banning foam containers in early 2013. Today, the City Council’s sanitation committee is holding a hearing on proposals to ban the containers, as well recycling alternatives. 

The mayor’s office wants the bill to pass before Bloomberg leaves office on Jan. 1, 2014, leaving Dart little time to convince the City Council that recycling is a viable alternative. While Dart representatives have reportedly spent much of the last nine months working with New York City government and the city’s plastics-and-metal vendor, Bloomberg has not publicly shown signs of budging on the issue.

For Dart, the ban could be devastating. About half of the company’s $3.5 billion in annual sales reportedly come from expanded polystyrene. A number of cities, primarily on the West coast, have already banned or limited the use of polystyrene. If New York City bans the product, it could pave the way for other cities on the East coast to follow suit.

Opponents to the polystyrene ban argue that alternatives to the controversial material are rarely better for the environment than polystyrene. Further, alternatives are substantially more expensive for business owners who currently use Styrofoam cups or takeaway containers.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bill question the feasibility of recycling plans, even when funded by Dart. The key to cleaning polystyrene containers prior to recycling has never been satisfactory realized for most of the country. Currently, less than 1 percent of polystyrene is recycled.

Even if the foam ban is not passed before 2014, opponents of the ban should not look to Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio as a potential ally: In 2007, the then city Councilman introduced a bill in the City Council to prohibit the use of polystyrene by City agencies and food establishments, targeting public school’s Styrofoam cafeteria trays.

Related: Franchises Criticize War on Styrofoam as Expensive, Unproductive

Kate Taylor is a staff writer for Entrepreneur.com.

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