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Written by Owain JonesMBA in Sustainability student at University of Saint Francis

As we all know, there are materials out there that are so synthetic and manufactured that breaking them down into something that can be reused again is very difficult. The ability for these materials to even breakdown over time in landfills is barely there. This then provides a significant obstacle to sustainability initiatives, namely zero waste ones. However, most big businesses can easily do away with the materials to achieve zero waste because they control what comes in. But what about public facilities or whole cities that are attempting to step up their sustainability and lessen their impact on the environment?

The much discussed Mayor of New York City (NYC) has proposed a solution to this, on top of his already highly publicized handling of high sugar beverages and smoking. In his last State of the City Address on February 14, 2013, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a ban on polystyrene foam, or the trade named Styrofoam. What this will do for NYC, Bloomberg proposes, is dramatically decrease the cost to taxpayers while increasing the sustainability and decreasing the overall environmental impact. NYC currently has to absorb the cost to collect and house all the Styrofoam, since it is part of their garbage collection and cannot be recycled. Bloomberg compares banning Styrofoam to the ban on lead paint due to the destructive nature of both materials.

It is clear that Mayor Bloomberg is not shy to tackle very controversial issues and this potential ban on Styrofoam could create some public outcry. This is mainly due to the major use of Styrofoam in NYC. Since it is such a city atmosphere, many people eat at public restaurants and the common receptacle for takeout is Styrofoam. So banning it could pose some hefty barriers to business owners and people’s convenience.

On the other hand, there actually has been some Styrofoam recycling developed and performed in California. The Vice President of the American Chemistry Council, Steve Russell, believes that NYC should look to implementing this before imposing an all out ban. Although, for a taxpayer funded entity, as NYC is, there comes a point to which continually increasing budgets to increase sustainability in no longer feasible and the source needs to be dismantled. This then opens up a whole other can of worms.

The fact of the matter is that continually developing technologies to combat the continued use of harmful materials, that humans have developed to live a convenient and easier life, is not efficient in trying to become a sustainable society. Mayor Bloomberg has some very high merit in pin pointing the source of the problem. Even if recycling Styrofoam is an easy process, not all of it is going to make it to the processor. This is an unfortunate fact that cannot be over looked. So much plastic, polystyrene, and synthetic material ends up in the world’s oceans because they can’t biodegrade easy and miss the recycling and landfill process. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is clear evidence of this. Doing away with materials, such as Styrofoam, goes directly to the source and can dramatically increase the overall sustainability of human society.

Photo copyright of Dunkin’ Donuts

In the NBC news clip below, Dunkin’ Donuts’ Styrofoam coffee cups are highlighted as being something largely affected by this potential ban. Dunkin’ Donuts has actually been contemplating doing away with their Styrofoam cups to something more recyclable but it does not look likely to be implemented anytime soon. Dunkin’ Donuts’ Director of CSR, Christine Riley, has been quoted as the issue being the number one priority for their sustainability.

View more videos at:


NBC10 Philadelphia Article; NYC Mayor Wants to Ban Styrofoam

EcoRI News; Disposable Coffee Cup Lifestyle Slow to Change