(Reuters) – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will propose a ban on Styrofoam, the substance commonly used for take-out food containers that is almost impossible to recycle.
The mayor who has already targeted fat, sugar and salt in the city will turn to extruded polystyrene foam, saying it clogs up landfills, does not biodegrade and might harm human health.
Bloomberg will raise the proposal in his final State of the City speech on Thursday. The city provided reporters an advance text of the speech on Wednesday.
Bloomberg, in his 12th year as mayor, has made public health and sustainability hallmarks of his three terms in office, and he has taken aim repeatedly at the fast-food industry – most recently in his controversial plan to bar the sale of large portions of sugary soda, which goes into effect next month.
Styrofoam, he says, should go the way of lead-based paint, which the city banned from residential use in 1960. An estimated 20,000 tons of Styrofoam enter the city’s waste stream each year, and it can add an estimated $20 per ton to the cost of recycling because it needs to be removed from the recycling stream, the city said.
“After all, we can live without it. We may live longer without it. And the doggie bag will survive just fine,” the text of Bloomberg’s speech says.
Dow Chemical Co, which makes Styrofoam, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Similar bans have been adopted in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.
The plan was likely to meet opposition from small businesses, since alternatives to Styrofoam tend to cost between two and five times as much.
“As this proposal moves forward, we hope that the concerns of the small businesses it affects – like cost increases – will factor in at least as heavily as environmental concerns,” said Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York Restaurant Association.
While Bloomberg’s aggressive campaigns have won him plaudits from some, others have dubbed him a “nanny” mayor and said his ideas limit choice and pre-empt individual responsibility.
During his first term, he pushed through a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, which, despite an initially rocky reception from New Yorkers, is now enormously popular and has inspired similar bans in cities around the world.
Next up was a ban on trans fats, found in Little Italy cannoli and fast-food french fries, and a dictate that fast-food restaurants post calorie information in large type on menu boards.
Last year, Bloomberg said restaurants and takeaway food shops could no longer sell sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces (47 cl).
Sugar-sweetened drinks are a significant source of extra calories in the U.S. diet and closely linked with weight gain, which often accompanies serious and costly illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.
The soft drinks industry is challenging the ban, which is due to begin in March, calling it an unconstitutional overreach that burdens small businesses and infringes upon personal liberty.
(Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Phil Berlowitz)