The North Miami Beach city council recently declined to ban polystyrene foam in favor of spending the next year looking for alternative programs for the community. Rather than placing an all-out ban on the products within the community, which could mean an economic burden for current small businesses and possibly deter new businesses from establishing roots in the area, the commissioners will spend the next year urging members of their community to consider their actions when disposing of foam waste. 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. These items, such as hot beverage cups and take-away food containers, are safe, cost-effective and provide amenities which both consumers and vendors prefer.
A common misconception regarding foam products is that they must be bad for the environment, especially when compared to alternatives, because they cannot be recycled. The truth is that polystyrene foam can be recycled, while almost all paper beverage products, a leading alternative to foam, have a wax or plastic lining that makes them very difficult to recycle.2 In fact, a study recently revealed that in major U.S. cities only 10 percent of paper foodservice products are recycled, lower than the 16 percent for foam products. Another fact to consider is that paper products, specifically paper cups, create more solid waste by weight, than foam cups.2 Several U.S. cities are coming to the conclusion that foam bans are not an answer to excess waste, but rather determining that the best community solution to this situation is actually implementing foam recycling programs. New York City, for example, is currently reviewing plans to start a foam recycling initiative in order to allow their street food vendors and restaurants to continue using the foam products they prefer.2 By encouraging recycling education instead of a foam ban, members of the community will be able to aid in reducing the amount of waste within their area while keeping product costs low for their local establishments.
Recycled polystyrene foam can also mean new economic and manufacturing opportunities for organizations in North Miami Beach. Processed and recycled polystyrene foam can often be used in the production of consumer goods, such as picture frames or crown moldings. This is accomplished through organizations collecting and cleaning the discarded foam, having the foam compressed into individual, dense foam blocks, and selling these blocks to manufacturers to use as material for filler in new consumer goods. This process not only removes the discarded foam from landfills and other areas, but takes a product at the end of its lifespan and reuses it for a new purpose.
While the North Miami Beach commissioners have not currently chosen to implement a foam recycling program, taking a year to review options rather than forcing a foam ban is a step in the right direction.