At a news conference this week, Washington, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray pushed his plan to ban polystyrene foam in the nation’s capital.
The ban would include plates, clamshells, beverage cups, trays and egg cartons – putting local eateries and grocery stores at risk of increased operating costs. One recent study estimates that banning foam could double packaging costs for food and beverage sellers.
Mayor Gray is selling the ban as a solution to reducing litter in the nearby Anacostia River. But according to a member of Anacostia Riverkeeper, the water source has less of a foam problem and more of a plastic bottle problem. Overall, foodservice foam accounts for a mere 1.5 percent of litter. To date, there is no evidence that litter control costs have dropped in cities with polystyrene foam bans.
The proposed ban is also prompting discussion about dining operations on Capitol Hill. While the District of Columbia does not have jurisdiction over the House of Representatives, House members are debating whether they would comply with the ban. Republicans have voiced opposition to the ban, citing waste-to-energy facilities that have taken up to 90 percent of the items the House does not recycle, keeping those materials out of landfills and waterways.
Another solution: Foam recycling.
Recyling programs such as the one created by Dart Container Corporation, provide a more affordable, effective alternative to polystyrene foam bans. Foam recycling can be integrated into existing waste management infrastructures, helping cities save on waste disposal and reduce litter in landfills and water systems. Dart works with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region to expand recycling programs to include foam, providing free collection and transportation to partners.
Foam recycling can support local economies while solving ecological challenges. Washington should set an example for the rest of the country with this pro-business, pro-environment solution.