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NYC restaurants spared from polystyrene ban—for now

foam takeout container

A state judge has overturned a New York City ban that prohibited restaurants and other businesses from using polystyrene containers for takeout food.

The ban, which was enacted July 1, aimed to reduce waste in local landfills, after Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia found that polystyrene packaging—such as takeout boxes, cups and plates—couldn’t be recycled when soiled with food.

Restaurant owners, manufacturers and others fought the ban, arguing that it would have a negative impact on small businesses and that, contrary to claims made by the ban’s supporters, used polystyrene containers can be recycled efficiently.

“The Commissioner's concern is not justified given the abundant evidence showing a viable and growing market for not just clean (expanded polystyrene foam) but post-consumer EPS material,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Margaret Chan wrote in the ruling made public Tuesday, noting that at least 21 New York-area recycling companies have such a demand.

While there may be larger environmental reasons for banning polystyrene containers, Chan wrote, the ban’s current foundation does not hold water, as Garcia failed to “clearly state the basis of her conclusions when the evidence contrary to her findings were clearly before her.”

Prior to the ruling, businesses had been given a six-month grace period to rid their supply of non-compliant containers.

Yet New York City officials say they are reviewing options to keep the ban alive.

“We disagree with the ruling,” City Hall spokeswoman Ishanee Parikh said in a statement. “These products cause real environmental harm, and we need to be able to prevent nearly 30,000 tons of expanded polystyrene waste from entering our landfills, streets, and waterways.” 

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