Oppose the proposed recycling of Styrofoam in NYC

Beached whale with a recent meal of plastics from ocean.

It was with great pride that I was able to testify on behalf of Brooklyn Solid Waste Advisory Board (BSWAB) at a hearing on May 12th about proposed legislation (Intro 1480) that would declare Styrofoam (expanded polystyrene or EPS) to be recyclable in New York City. I have testified previously at other City Council hearings but this was by far the most lengthy and well-attended hearing I’ve attended. The attendees filled at least two over-flow rooms in addition to the main room that seated perhaps 50 people.

At least 15 industry experts testified in support of the legislation, including the chief recycling officer for Dart Industries, a billion dollar manufacturer of EPS, the owner of the PRI plant in Indiana that would recycle the dirty EPS from DSNY, an economist, a scientist, several plastics producers who use recycled polystyrene, the owner of the company from Mexico City that designed the recycling plant in Indiana and several others.

Opposing the legislation were the current and former Sanitation commissioners, the former head of DSNY’s Recycling program, Ron Gonan, Eric Goldstein from NRDC, a large collection of environmentalists including Riverkeepers and several kayaking and boating groups, NY Lawyers For The Public Interest, a resident of Los Angeles talking about LA’s negative experiences with recycling EPS and me.

Council members attending included CM’s Reynoso, Lander and Rosenthal, opposing, and Cabrera and Constantinides who supported. Lander in particular grilled the industry spokespersons, questioning the promise that the EPS would actually be recycled and wondering if this effort was not a desperate attempt by Dart to protect its sales. Rosenthal asked the owner of PRI if he’d be willing to donate his profits to the City of New York. Of course he claimed that he could not make that commitment. Cabrera, who supported the legislation, had in fact visited that PRI plant in Indiana and begged other CM’s also do so.  Reynoso said he was not interested in visiting the PRI plant because he disliked plastics and felt the City should move to less harmful materials.

I was in the 5th panel of testifiers, appearing after some 3 hours of testimony. By the time I spoke, much of what was in the BSWAB prepared statement had been covered many times. So I submitted 25 copies to the Council staff person and read instead from a report stating that by 2050, there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean, by weight. The report also states that less than 5% of the plastic packaging is actually recycled and that up to 1/3 ends up in the oceans. I felt this particularly important given than all of the industry testimony focused on the recyclability of EPS, yet none of it addressed the fact that 95% of plastic packaging is never reused.  I also pointed out, that unlike other materials such as paper, metal and glass, plastic never breaks down which is why so much accumulates in the oceans.  My testimony appears at the 3:01:49 mark in this video of the hearing.

In fact, CM Reynoso asked the scientist supporting EPS what the “half-life” of EPS was. The scientist said he had no idea, to which Reynoso responded “precisely”.

All in all, a great time was had by all and yet the outcome is still uncertain. Brad Lander after the hearing was over said he was pleased to see such a strong showing against EPS and felt we had slowed the considerable momentum the bill had been gathering.

We will see!

I would encourage you all to contact your NYC Council Member and ask they vote no on Intro #1480.

Greg Todd, Co-Director

Waste Not Permaculture

 

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