Under New City Rule, It’s the Packaging, Not the Food, That’s to Go

The New York Times

The proposed mayoral ban — swift, decisive, stirring in the moment — does not always take.

New Yorkers can still get cozy with an outsize soda, the carbonated nemesis that former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg failed to fell.

Horse carriages, which Mayor Bill de Blasio once pledged to expel on ”Day 1” of his administration, continue to rumble through Central Park.

But now, it seems, City Hall’s two most recent occupants have successfully combined to vanquish a common foe: plastic foam.

Nearly two years after Mr. Bloomberg first proposed banishing the material in his final State of the City address, de Blasio administration officials are expected to announce on Thursday that they have completed the deed.

Beginning on July 1, food establishments will be barred from using plastic foam cups or containers, compelling purveyors of curbside cart fare and Chinese takeout, among others, to find alternatives. The sale of packing peanuts within the city limits will also be prohibited, though peanut-laden parcels can still be shipped to New Yorkers from elsewhere.

”This has been a movement that’s gone on for a very long time,” Kathryn Garcia, the city’s sanitation commissioner, said of the shift away from foam. ”Clearly, there are alternatives out there that are much more environmentally friendly.”

Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council have long lamented the polymer’s persistence, arguing that foam containers, stained by food and grease, were needlessly clogging landfills. But efforts to rid the city of the material had met fierce opposition from Dart Container Corporation, one of the largest makers of plastic foam products, and the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that aggressively lobbied city officials and council members.

In December 2013, just before Mr. Bloomberg left office, the City Council passed a compromise measure that gave foam defenders a year to prove to the sanitation commissioner that ”dirty foam” could be collected, recycled and sold in an economically viable way.

City officials said on Wednesday that the foam, known as expanded polystyrene, was not recyclable and that they had not found any established markets where it could be sold. Messages left on Wednesday for Dart, which argued before the City Council in 2013 that foam could be recycled, were not returned. A spokesman for the American Chemistry Council said it would be ”inappropriate to comment” before the city made an official announcement.

Former Bloomberg administration officials cheered the foam’s imminent demise.

”We created and undertook the most ambitious sustainability plan in the nation,” Caswell F. Holloway, the former deputy mayor for operations, said in a statement. ”This latest step is another reason why New York has become a model for cities around the world.”

While Mr. Bloomberg’s plan to ban large sugary drinks was defeated in court, he did alter several aspects of city life — from the consumption of trans fats to smoking in parks to car traffic on parts of Broadway — that he found unhealthy or otherwise unpalatable.

Mr. de Blasio’s office said he had long shared his predecessor’s desire to ban foam, noting that he had called for its removal as a City Council member, as public advocate and as a candidate for mayor.

Similar measures have been enacted in other cities, including San Francisco, Seattle and Portland. New York’s ban seems primed to make a significant dent: The city collected roughly 28,000 tons of expanded polystyrene in the year ending in June 2014, the administration said.

The city does not plan to enforce the ban until January 2016, officials said, delaying fines and allowing a grace period for vendors to learn the new rules.

Nonprofits and businesses with less than $500,000 in annual revenue can apply for exemptions, which they will receive if they prove that buying other materials in place of foam would create ”undue financial hardship.”

Nilda Mesa, director of the mayor’s Office of Sustainability, suggested that New York’s status as a ”city of islands” made the ban particularly important.

”Much of what fouls our waters starts out on land,” Ms. Mesa said in a statement, adding that the ban ”will improve our rivers and waterfront and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean, with its rich fisheries and marine life.”

In some corners of the city, though, concerns were less high-minded. Though many restaurants have moved away from foam, it remains a staple for others — the clamshells lugged daily from food carts and bodegas, sealing in the heat, to be opened at home or in the company of subway riders or co-workers unable to ignore the smell.

Foam containers are lightweight, vendors say, and they are cheap, though there have been problems.

Daniel Vazquez, an employee at Papaya Dog in Greenwich Village, where foam containers are stacked behind the counter, said visitors had occasionally pierced the inexpensive cups with their fingers. ”Some people push too hard,” he said.

At a cart across the street, Sammay’s Halal Food, John Flynn, 22, who works as a porter nearby, endorsed foam as the carrier of choice, particularly in the dead of winter.

”I just want to keep my food warm,” he said, his breath visible.