The leaders of Key Biscayne, an island town south of Miami, Florida, recently voted to pass a bill that will have residents, visitors and local businesses facing an unexpected burden and economic hardship. After a vote made on November 25, the island’s Village Council has decided to ban the use of polystyrene foam products in Biscayne Bay parks, beaches and village facilities.1 These items, such as hot beverage cups and take-away containers, are safe, cost-effective and provide several amenities which both consumers and vendors prefer over products derived from alternative materials, such as paper. Polystyrene foam, which is often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam® – a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company – makes up several forms of single-use foodservice products.
It’s an unfortunate misconception that single-use foam products are bad for the environment because they cannot be recycled. The truth is that polystyrene foam can be recycled, and is currently an integral part of many recycling programs throughout the U.S. Unbeknownst to most consumers, many paper single-use beverage products, a popular alternative to foam, have a wax or plastic lining required to prevent leaking which, in turn, makes them very difficult to recycle.2 According to the American Chemistry Council, only 10% of paper foodservice items are recycled each year.2 In comparison, recycling rates for polystyrene foam products in the U.S. and Canada have been on a steady climb since 1991, rising 5% in 2013 alone.2 According to the EPS Industry Alliance, the total recycling rate is up to 35%.2
Not only are paper-alternatives to foam inferior products from an environmental perspective, but they can also cost nearly double the amount of foam items.3 Proposed foam bans in other parts of the country have been met with opposition from location businesses because of the possible increased cost of doing business. For example, when former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed banning foam products in the city, more than 1,000 local businesses wrote personal letters to members of the City Council in opposition of the legislation.3 According to a study conducted by MB Public Affairs, for every $1.00 a restaurant spends on polystyrene foam products, they will be forced to spend $1.94 on replacement alternatives.3 Key Biscayne retailers will soon be faced with burden of these cost increases, which could then be passed on to residents and visitors in the area.