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Styrofoam Ban Being Eyed by City Sanitation Department

By Andrea Swalec | February 6, 2013 7:32am

WEST VILLAGE — Takeout food and to-go coffee will no longer be served in Styrofoam containers if the city Sanitation Department has anything to say about it.

The department is planning to suggest the city ban all food-service providers from using containers made from the material, an official said Monday night.

"I'm proposing legislation to ban Styrofoam in New York City," deputy commissioner for recycling and sustainability Ron Gonen said.

Details of the suggested legislation are being hammered out now, Gonen said, but it will focus on businesses that buy huge amounts of the hazardous material, not on individual consumers.

"The onus would not be on the consumer," he said. "This would not be something that the consumer would have to deal with."

Gonen, who was appointed to the newly created recycling czar position in May, said restrictions on the to-go materials restaurants use would be good for the city's budget as well as for the environment.

"From a pure dollars-and-cents standpoint, it costs us money to dispose of Styrofoam in a landfill," he said. "It's also unhealthy for the environment. It doesn't break down properly."

Gonen declined to comment on whether he has discussed the plan with the office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has been criticized for so-called "nanny state" restrictions on the size of sugar-sweetened drinks restaurants can sell and where people can smoke.

A spokesman for Bloomberg did not respond to an inquiry about the possible ban.

A Styrofoam ban has been previously reviewed by the City Council.

A group of 16 councilmembers co-sponsored legislation in October 2009 that asked the state Legislature to give food-service businesses tax incentives for using environmentally friendly alternatives to Styrofoam. The resolution never made it out of committee.

Previous Styrofoam ban supporter Councilman Lewis A. Fidler said he would support a renewed push for restrictions.

“I would love to move this bill forward, as it would be a help to both our environment and to our businesses through tax incentives," he said in a statement Tuesday.

"I am always hopeful that Councilman [James F.] Gennaro, who chairs our environmental protection committee, and [City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's] office will find a way to get this done.”

Seattle and parts of California have already prohibited takeout restaurants from using Styrofoam clamshell boxes.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Styrofoam, which is a trademark for extended polystyrene, releases into the air pollutants known to cause health problems.

Gonen said New York businesses using materials that damage the environment will have to answer to the city.

"We're either going to ban your product or packaging, or make you pay to have it sent to a landfill," he said.