The Mayor of Hallandale Beach, Florida, Joy Cooper, shut down a proposal to ban expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. The Mayor’s commendable decision is based on her understanding that banning EPS foam containers on the beach doesn’t solve the problem of littering. Rather, the proper solution is educating its citizens of the economic and environmental benefits of foam recycling. Her overhaul starts with a six month foam recycling campaign focused on shedding light on litter prevention and recycling best practices. Mayor Cooper commented to the local newspaper, the Sun Sentinel, regarding her decision that “Products don’t litter, people do.”
Hallandale Beach would have become the first city in Broward County to embrace a ban on polystyrene at the beach, and members of the community would have been stuck with a $50 fine for every offense. What is worse is that many bans have already been instituted across the United States. These bans have caused turmoil for local businesses and have understandably been met with pushback due to their impractical application. For example, foam recycling supporters in New York City have filed suit calling out the lack of fairness and economic hardship imposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s politically motivated foam ban.
We know that educating consumers on the facts of foam recycling solves the environmental issues, not bans. So what are these facts? First of all, EPS foam is capable of being recycled and millions of pounds of foam are recycled daily around the nation. Further, there is a market for recycled foam as it is the building block of many of the consumer goods relied on daily such as office supplies, building materials, children’s toys, DVD cases and even surfboards.
Secondly, removing EPS foam will not remove the landfill and littering problems. Compared with many other materials, polystyrene foam foodservice products compose a small percentage (approximately 1%) of all products by weight in landfills. The only solution to littering is to educate consumers on how to properly recycle their foam products and to enforce existing laws. A ban will not stop the majority of waste that ends up on Hallandale Beach.
Finally, paper alternatives are not more environmentally sustainable than foam. EPS foam food containers insulate against hot and cold contents much better than their paper counterparts. Moreover, consumers often double up on paper cups to protect their hands against hot coffee or tea, resulting in more waste. This double-cupping phenomenon results in nearly twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as the use of a single average-weight polystyrene foam cup.
It is clear that Mayor Cooper understands the importance of educating citizens before enacting local legislation that will not work. Many citizens today look to their cities and municipalities to support sustainability by offering recycling programs. Foam recycling is the by far the best practice and cities that adopt these programs are setting a good example for future generations by demonstrating environmental responsibility.