Outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to ban all styrofoam products in the Big Apple as one of his last acts before he leaves office. That doesn’t just apply to water cups but to plates used at cookouts and containers used by (take-out) restaurants. His concern is that they are not biodegradable and fill the city’s streets and landfills with garbage.

The New York Post reports on this new measure:

At the request of the mayor, the City Council’s Sanitation Committee is holding a hearing Monday on a bill to prohibit the use and sale of plastic foam cups and plates that have long been ubiquitous in delis, bodegas and even school cafeterias.

Sanitation officials say plastic foam food containers add 23,000 tons of trash a year to landfills. The city’s total total waste stream is more than three million tons.

The officials say the ban is warranted because foam containers are non-biodegradable, can’t be recycled and spoil the environment.

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio proposed a similar measure as public advocate in 2010, according to his office website.

Bloomberg’s office said the foam ban is a no-brainer.

“When polystyrene foam is used for food service it becomes a devastating pollutant that infects our parks and waterways while never biodegrading and has been classified a carcinogenic health hazard by the National Institute of Health,” said Bloomberg spokesman Jake Goldman.

Officials said the ban could shave millions of dollars in disposal and recycling costs.

Could the mayor really have the environment on his mind? Perhaps. This Mayor often tries to do what he thinks will lead to healthier lives for New Yorkers. He has banned sugary drinks, e-cigarettes, and other “vices.”

Cronyism could also be at play where a business or industry pushes such legislation knowing that they will benefit exclusively and leave the competition out in the cold. I’m guessing the paper industry is gearing up for a booming 2014.

The cost implications and economics impacts are startling. Replacing foam cups and trays would cost nearly $100 million dollars, doubling what consumers and businesses currently spend, and 1,200 jobs would be at risk according to a study conducted by the chemical industry:

“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.”

"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.

Officials point to the move by large national chains like Dunkin Donuts, Starbuck’s and McDonald’s away from foam products as justification that other restaurants can fall in line. However, it’s not so easy when you’re a small business. Local restaurants aren’t happy:


“I use foam containers because they’re great at keeping food fresh and because they’re economical,” said Rosemary Nunez, owner of La Nueva Estrella El Castillo restaurant in Brooklyn. “This is just another example of the administration trampling on the interests of the people who create jobs in this city.”

An alternative bill in the City Council would require foam to be recycled instead of banned outright. That sounds more palatable if the core concern is stopping trash from piling up.

And by the way, according to the report above, alternatives to foam are often heavier, larger in volume and require more energy to produce and transport. Some paper products can’t even be recycled and often don’t insulate as well as styrofoam leading people to double them up. That makes the dumping issues worse, not better.

This ban joins the library of government regulations that strangle small business and entrepreneurs. These people are the engines and engineers of economic growth, employment and inspiration for our nation. Yet, daily they fight for their survival against politicians –like Bloomberg– who use central planning as a weapon to stunt social and economic growth in what they consider as progress.

These ill-conceived plans have unintended consequences, which in this case is the financial strain on restaurants, food carts, and food trucks as well as the potential unemployment of thousands of workers.

As an entrepreneur who built an empire, Bloomberg should be the “Rocky” for small business, but instead he’s been its “Drago” (you know the Russian boxer in Rocky IV who kills Apollo). Someone is winning here. Sadly, it’s not small business.