New year, new regulations. On January 1st, 2019 single-use foam products will be banned in New York City. Food service establishments, stores, food trucks, and manufacturers are banned from possessing, selling, or offering single-use expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam food service articles, or loose fill packaging (packing peanuts).
Single use polystyrene foam items that are banned include cups, bowls, plates, take-out containers, and trays. There are exceptions though. EPS containers used for prepackaged food that have been filled and sealed prior to receipt by the restaurant, food truck, or store are not banned. Nor are EPS containers used to store raw meat, pork, fish, seafood, or poultry sold from a butcher case or similar retail appliance.
Now, this may create a hardship for many small businesses. As such, businesses with less than $500,000 in gross income for the most recent tax year as well as nonprofits may apply for hardship exemptions from the Department of Small Business Services (SBS). In order to receive a waiver, the business must prove that purchasing alternative products will create a financial hardship. Applications can be made here.
Available alternatives to foam include aluminum, rigid plastics, uncoated paper, glass, and compostable items. The city prefers businesses use reusable, returnable and/or refillable containers.
The de Blasio administration sought this ban as far back as 2015. The issue was challenged in court by an industry group known as the Restaurant Action Alliance. In June of 2018 the state Supreme Court denied the group’s appeal clearing the way for the ban to take effect. The argument boils down to industry saying that EPS containers can be recycled and the City saying they can’t be. Both are right. EPS can and should be recycled but it needs to be done at a centralized plant making it difficult to be done locally. Also, recycled EPS can’t then be used for products that carry food which is where things get tricky. The alternatives that the City is touting cost more and will hurt small businesses, particularly restaurants and food trucks. Increased costs will then be past on to the consumers.
The City’s designated sorting facility has already performed a test and successfully sorted foam, baled it, and sent it to a recycler that recycled it into new products so one must wonder if this ban is truly necessary. It is possible that the City’s facility can only handle small volumes or the costs to the City are too prohibitive. Either way come January 1stmany small businesses in New York City have yet another regulation to deal with.