Brooklyn Boro

City begins fining businesses for using single-use foam products

July 18, 2019 Scott Enman
A coffee cup made from polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam, lies on the side of a road. AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty

Just months after banning plastic bags, New York City has begun to fine restaurants, stores and manufacturers that continue to offer single-use foam products — like takeout clamshells, cups and “packing peanuts” — after the material was banned on Jan 1.

Following a six-month warning period, the city’s Department of Sanitation began issuing penalties in July, with 38 violations handed out as of Tuesday. A first offense is $250, a second is $500 and third and subsequent offenses are $1,000 apiece.

Foam, which is not biodegradable, is collected as trash and often ends up as litter in streets, beaches and in waterways where it absorbs pollutants and is mistaken for food by marine life. The material, also known as Styrofoam or polystyrene, can also clog storm drains.

“Foam cannot be recycled, plain and simple,” Dina Montes of DSNY told the Brooklyn Eagle. “It’s also a contaminant in our recycling and organics programs,” she added. “Bottom line — this type of waste creates big problems.”

Prior to the ban, foam made up roughly 1 percent of New York City’s waste stream, according to Montes, who said that while that percentage may seem low, it adds up. Just last year, 30,000 tons of foam were collected in the city.

Foam blocks used as protective packaging, for example, and foam containers for raw meat or seafood are exempt from the ban.

Since January, DSNY has worked to educate businesses about the ban and the fines for ignoring it through mailers, email blasts and social media campaigns, including #FoamBanNYC and #FoamFreeNYC.

Fines are issued when DSNY’s Enforcement Unit observes violations or while investigating 311 complaints. The city’s Department of Health and Department of Consumer Affairs can also issue summonses to businesses.

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City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he was thrilled that New York City was finally taking steps to remove the material from the city’s waste stream.

“Reducing our waste is vital to the health of our planet and our city,” Johnson said. “Single-use foam has littered our streets, sidewalks and parks or ended up in our landfills for too long.”

Assistant Speaker of the Assembly Felix Ortiz said that the city’s decision to ban foam should pressure the state and ultimately the country to ban the product.

Albany and Suffolk counties, as well as the city of Glen Cove, have already banned foam within New York State. Major cities that have also enacted the ban include Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.

Maryland and Maine have also agreed to ban foam. Maryland will become the first state in the nation to go foam free when its ban beings July 1, 2020, while Maine’s ban goes into effect Jan 1. 2021.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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  1. Again, tip of the iceberg. Like plastic straws, this barely scratches the surface. If gasoline is still beING sold in 10 years it will mean we have lost the battle to save humans from global heating. Stop the Williams pipeline, Cuomo! No new gas hookups in NYS. Seize the assets of the wealthy (we’re talking many, many trillions) to subsidize switching out all oil & gas burners, stoves and heating, to all electric, and otherwise fund the transition to 100% sustainability. REBEL FOR LIFE! XREBELLION.NYC