Washington, D.C. has proposed to ban polystyrene foam in food containers, a move that would increase operating costs for the District’s restaurants, food trucks, cafes, grocery stores and other establishments that provide food on site.
Proposed by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, the ban would include plates, clamshells, beverage cups, trays for meat and vegetables, and egg cartons. Food service establishments rely on foam for its affordable, lightweight and insulated properties. Alternative products like glass, aluminum and plastic-coated paper cups come at an increase for business owners – and costs are passed on to consumers.
Mayor Gray cites litter in the nearby Anacostia River as the impetus for the ban. However, the Anacostia River Society said cans and plastic bottles are the primary source of debris. Overall, foodservice foam only accounts for 1.5 percent of total litter, and there is no evidence that the cost of controlling litter has fallen in cities with polystyrene foam bans.
Recycling programs, including those created by Dart Container Corporation, provide a more efficient, cost-effective solution to foam bans. Dart has helped cities throughout the Mid-Atlantic region expand recycling programs to include polystyrene foam, providing collection and transportation at no cost to its partners. Foam recycling programs help communities save on waste disposal and reduce waste in landfills and waterways. Washington, D.C.’s existing infrastructure could integrate foam recycling, providing a sensible and convenient solution for business owners and residents.
Banning foam won’t solve D.C.’s litter problem. Instead, it will saddle businesses and restaurateurs with additional operating costs. It’s time for our communities to recognize and encourage foam recycling as an effective, environmentally responsible solution.