Maybe yesterday you were drinking coffee from a white foam cup. Well, today that cup is a controlled substance in New York City, a piece of contraband with steeper fines attached to it than those for marijuana offenses.
The city probably won't break down any doors in search of the white squeaky stuff, but as of July 1 New York is the largest city in America to prohibit the sale, possession and distribution of single-use polystyrene foam.
Businesses will have a six month grace period before being fined, but consumers should say their final goodbyes to foam cups, plates, clamshells, coolers, hard plastic-like utensils and packing peanuts.
The material is commonly known as 'styrofoam,' including in the title of the city's release on the ban. But as Dow Chemical is at pains to point out these days, STYROFOAM® is in fact a brand name insulation product they've been making for 60 years.
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In any case, officials say the type of plastic resin in foam can’t be recycled. They say it blows around the city, fouls the harbor and can end up in the food chain. They say it ends up circling for decades in one of the ocean’s great patches of floating garbage.
“These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a release about the ban.
Dozens of other cities, including Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and San Francisco, have already banned the stuff. But New York’s ban is the biggest blow yet to the industry. Last year, the city collected nearly 30,000 tons of single-use foam. That's more than six pounds of foam per resident. City schools alone were throwing away 800,000 foam lunch trays a day.
Now, there is a logo at the bottom of almost every foam container, signaling that you can recycle it. The city's ban is based on the conclusion that foam is not recyclable, however -- a conclusion that Dart Container Corp sharply disputes.
Dart makes a lot of foam products and calls the ban “capricious,” “irrational” and “arbitrary.” It says that the city’s review of the market for recycled foam was a “farce,” and that de Blasio is pandering to the city’s ultra-liberal green fringe.
Recently, Dart joined restaurant owners and recyclers in an effort to overturn the ban. They argue that the ban is illegal and a terrible burden on the city’s already strapped food sellers, who must now pay more for compostable paper containers.
“Here’s the truth that the city won’t admit: foam is 100% recyclable,” a spokesperson for Dart’s legal alliance told msnbc in a statement. “We will continue to fight the ban, help the City’s small businesses, and work to improve the environment.”
In response, the city points to the experience of Leith Hill, the owner of an all-natural cafe called Ellary's Greens. She pays a bit more for paper containers, but she says the prices are falling fast as more businesses switch from foam to paper.
"That's the hope," she told msnbc. "Foam is a product of the past."