New Study Details Economic And Environmental Costs Of NYC Polystyrene Ban

Mar 20, 2013, 11:11 ET from American Chemistry Council

A Switch to Alternatives Will Cost City Businesses Millions, Increase Solid Waste

NEW YORK, March 20, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A new study released today finds that the ban on polystyrene foam proposed by the Bloomberg Administration will cost city businesses, consumers and tax payers nearly $100 million per year by nearly doubling food service product costs, and do little to reduce waste.

According to the study, produced by research firm MB Public Affairs on behalf of the American Chemistry Council, "Total costs to replace plastic foam foodservice and drink containers and trays with the lowest-cost alternative are estimated at $91.3 million [per year.] This level translates into an effective minimum average cost increase of 94%. In other words, for every $1.00 now spent on plastic foam foodservice and drink containers, NYC consumers and businesses will have to spend at least $1.94 on the alternative replacements, effectively doubling the cost to businesses."

The Price Tag

City agencies are some of the biggest purchasers of polystyrene food service containers, spending nearly $12 million a year on items such as cups and trays.  A switch to the lowest cost alternatives would cost the city an additional $11 million a year, including $8 million for the Department of Education alone.

Restaurants in the five boroughs will see a $57 million increase in costs.  Restaurants, especially small businesses, are already stretched – and this increase has the potential to seriously impact the bottom line of businesses that employ over 137,000 New Yorkers.

"This study shows that for a restaurant – especially a small, neighborhood business – mandating a switch to a higher-priced alternative for basic supplies can have a serious effect," said Andrew Moesel, spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association. "These are businesses that are absorbing higher food and energy costs, and are under pressure from a struggling economy that leaves less money in people's paychecks.  It's one more thing to add to the headwinds they are facing. As the process moves forward, we hope that the City Council takes into consideration the substantial economic burden that this or any new piece of regulation would have."

In addition, the ban would have significant impact on polystyrene manufacturing jobs in New York State.  Over 1,200 jobs would be in serious jeopardy, with a total estimated impact of nearly $400 million for the state. 

The Alternatives

In addition to its economic impacts, the study found that the proposed ban will not reduce solid waste in New York City and may also produce unintended consequences that will harm the environment. 

Despite claims to the contrary, polystyrene foam is being recycled in about 65 U.S. cities.  However, many common alternatives to foam are not recycled at all, and have other significant drawbacks.    Alternatives are often heavier and larger in volume, use more energy for production and transport, and take up more room in landfills. 

Paper products – the most common alternative to foam – cannot be recycled according to the City of New York Department of Sanitation's own website, which specifically mentions paper coffee cups and other paper food service items.  These products also do not insulate as well, leading to double cupping or the use of a sleeve, which actually increases solid waste and would further increase costs beyond the $91 million per year estimated in this study. 

"Legislative bans that do not consider the full life cycle impacts of a product and its alternatives have the potential to create unforeseen impacts on the ability to pursue other environmental goals in other areas," according to the study.


A ban on polystyrene foam would have serious economic impacts to the City and to state businesses.  It would require businesses and consumers to switch to higher cost alternatives that are in many cases inferior to polystyrene products.  And most importantly, it would have little to no impact on waste reduction or other environmental concerns.  

The full study can be viewed at

SOURCE American Chemistry Council