Small businesses within Washington, DC may soon be faced with an unexpected economic burden due to a vote made discreetly on June 24 by its own city council members.1 The Sustainable D.C. Omnibus Act of 2014 passed a preliminary vote which included a potential ban on the use of polystyrene foam products within the city.1 Polystyrene foam items are used throughout the District at restaurants, eateries, food trucks and other small businesses. Most often when consumers think of polystyrene foam they mistakenly refer to it is as Styrofoam®, which is a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company that is used as insulation in homes. Polystyrene foam makes up many of the single-use foodservice products that consumers prefer, such as hot beverage cups and take-away food containers.
A ban on foam foodservice items could mean an unnecessary financial burden on small businesses that depend on these products. Businesses in the few other U.S. cities also dealing with a potential foam ban have voiced concerns that come from a required switch to alternative products. According to Dennis Linardaxuji, owner of Bus Stop Restaurant in New York City, “Foam containers are the best product for my business. My customers like them because they keep food hot and don’t make a mess. I like them because they are more affordable, convenient, sanitary and sturdy. I wrote to the City Council to tell them that they should stick up for the people who are creating jobs and feeding this city, not rubberstamping a regulation that won’t do anything to reduce waste.”2 A study conducted by MB Public Affairs in response to the proposed ban in NYC proved Linardaxuji’s point about foam products being the more affordable than their alternatives. According to the study, for every $1.00 spent on polystyrene foam products, restaurants affected by a foam ban will have to spend at least $1.94 on replacements.2
Another issue in regards to banning foam products is the misconception that doing so will help the environment by reducing the amount of waste sent to local landfills. The truth is that replacing foam items with alternatives will not decrease the amount of waste, but simply replace one type of waste for another. In fact, because foam alternatives are not as reliable, consumers often double-up on the amount of product they use. For instance, to insulate a paper coffee cup a consumer may use two cups or a cardboard sleeve to keep from being harmed by hot liquid.2 This human behavior creates more waste, which defeats the original purpose of the foam ban.
A solution that satisfies consumers, business owners and local lawmakers is the implementation of a foam recycling program. More than 60 cities in California are experiencing success from developing these types of initiatives. Dart Container Corporation, a Michigan-based manufacturer of foam products, is currently working on developing a foam recycling program for New York City. Dart recycles foam by first compressing the waste to a fraction of its original size and processing it. The resulting material is used in the production of new consumer goods. This technique not only removes polystyrene foam waste from landfills, but also creates new manufacturing opportunities. The Washington, DC proposed foam ban regulation must go to another vote and pass prior to going into effect. Urge your council members to say no to the foam ban.