On my show last week, I criticized Mayor Bloomberg's plan to ban Styrofoam cups and trays.
But could I have been wrong to criticize? Bloomberg says the ban will save the city money. After all, Styrofoam is not easily recyclable, whereas its replacements -- paper, plastic, and aluminum -- are. And the AP reports that NYC makes money on recycling:
...the city nets a payment of at least $10 a ton for recycling paper and about $14 a ton for recycling glass and plastic, [New York City's head of recycling, Ron] Gonen said.
But the AP report is misleading, because those numbers for recycling profits don't count any costs of recycling. Yes, NYC makes $10 per ton of recycled paper they sell. But they pay much more to recycle the paper. The latest NYC government study on the recycling program that we found, from 2004, shows recycling costs the city more per pound than sending trash to a landfill.
Mayor Bloomberg also says the city will save money because:
"Styrofoam increases the cost of recycling by as much as $20 per ton, because it has to be removed [from the recyclables]."
Let's assume he's right. According to the city, they recycle 1,723 tons per day. Per year, that's 628,895 tons of recycling. At $20 a ton, that's almost $13 million.
That is a lot of savings. But what about the COST? And what will people outside government pay?
A street vendor in New York says that switching from foam to aluminum trays would cost him an extra $100 a week. Multiply that across the entire city. A study funded by the American Chemistry Council found that banning Styrofoam would cost New Yorkers $91 million.
Plus, more people have to eat cold lunches because styrofoam holds heat better than the alternatives.
But the war on Styrofoam doesn't stop at cost. Some claim it may cause cancer, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) does call a chemical called "styrene" a likely human carcinogen.
I like the response to that from Dr. Josh Bloom of the American Council on Science and Health :
"It's a typical scare tactic. They are referring to styrene, the chemical used to make styrofoam. It may very well be carcinogenic, but this is irrelevant.
Styrofoam is NOT styrene. Nor does it contain it. The fact that styrofoam is made from styrene makes no difference... This is a scare based on ignorance of chemistry."