• Hoboken Bans Styrofoam in Unanimous City Council Vote

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    Update on the styrofoam ban as of August 11th, 2019:

    As of this past Wednesday, August 7th, the Hoboken City Council has officially adopted an ordinance that will ban the use of single-use styrofoam products and carry-out plastic bags that come from food service and retail establishments. Hoboken is joining the ranks of neighboring cities like New York City and others across the country to ban single-use styrofoam products. Keep reading for what you need to know about Hoboken’s newest ban on styrofoam. 

    styrofoam ban city of hoboken

    First, A Little Background Info

    Let’s start with the New York City styrofoam ban. Five years ago, Michael Bloomberg was the mayor of New York City, and he proposed a citywide ban of the synthetic material. On January 1st, 2019, it went into effect and by June 30th, any store and restaurant that has not already ceased using foam cups, to-go containers, and packing peanuts will face a fine.

    That fine could be as much as $1,000 for each foamy expense.

    The foam ban has a bit of history in Manhattan, though. Current NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio inherited Bloomberg’s proposed foam ban, but it didn’t work out immediately. The first foam ban went into effect in July 2015, but ended pretty quickly after a group of business and restaurant owners sued the city and they won.

    Though the court originally deemed the ban “capricious and arbitrary,” their tune changed in 2017. Two years after the lawsuit, the court sided with Mayor de Blasio, recognizing that styrofoam’s inability to recycle or biodegrade is harmful to the environment.

    See More:  Recycling in Hoboken + Tips on Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

    The Styrofoam Ban’s Process in Hoboken

    Last month, Vijay Chaudhuri confirmed to Hoboken Girl that Mayor Bhalla and the Hoboken Green Team drafted legislation to ban the use of styrofoam. Mayor Bhalla has said, “Styrofoam isn’t biodegradable, can’t be recycled, and is a threat [to] our environment. Hoboken is committed to environmental sustainability, and this proposed styrofoam ban will allow us to do our part to reduce harmful landfill waste and encourage the use of safer alternatives.”

    The mayor and the Hoboken Green Team had also drafted updated legislation regarding the City’s single-use-plastic bag ban. Mayor Bhalla said, “Our ban on single-use plastic bags has been widely successful, and this new legislation takes it one step further. If the Council adopts the legislation, we will completely eliminate our dependence on all types of plastic bags which will further reduce our carbon footprint and improve our environment.”

    As of August 7th’s Hoboken City Council meeting, the banning of styrofoam was unanimously voted into a ban, giving local businesses about six months to comply with the ordinance. It also bans “reusable” plastic bags, which have been put into use since the plastic bag ban ordinance at retailers like CVS and Shoprite in Hoboken. 

    “Hoboken is once again leading the way in promoting policies that will help improve our environment,” said Mayor Bhalla in a statement. “By eliminating single-use Styrofoam products and all carry-out plastic bags, we are substantially reducing pollution on our streets and in the Hudson River, as well as non-biodegradable waste in our landfills.”

    The new regulations adhere to Hoboken’s Climate Action Plan, which Mayor Bhalla put into motion via executive order in early 2019.

    Looking for local spots that offer biodegradable takeout containers that aren’t plastic? Click here.

    What Styrofoam Is

    Styrofoam is a trademarked, brand-name for something called polystyrene foam. Also known as “Blue Board,” this foam is used as insulation in foundations, roofs, and walls. It provides thermal insulation and a water barrier, which is why it eventually became popular as takeout containers, cups, and other on-the-go items.

    But when plastic or styrofoam goes up in temperature, you have to worry about the dangers of plastic leaching.

    When polystyrene is needed for its insulating properties, it’s made into a foam material called expanded {EPS} or extruded polystyrene {XPS}. It’s usually 95% air; the rest is styrene, a building-block chemical, that is strung together. Styrene occurs naturally in foods like cinnamon, coffee, beef, and even strawberries, but it’s also a petroleum byproduct that’s toxic.

    And it’s not exclusive to styrofoam. You can also find styrene in plastic and resins.

    What Styrofoam is Used For

    styrofoam mural

    {Photo credit: @mexichica_love}

    Styrofoam was popularized because of its ability to insulate. That’s why you see a lot of styrofoam when it comes to taking things on the go — because it keeps beverages and food warm longer. Styrofoam is often used for coffee cups, bowls, plates, and takeout containers. But it’s used for a lot of other stuff, too.

    Besides your typical on-the-go restaurant fanfare, styrofoam is also used for packing peanuts, surfboards, home and appliance insulation, automobile parts, roadway and road bank stabilization, and more.

    Some coolers and trays are also made out of styrofoam.

    How Styrofoam Breaks Down {Or Doesn’t}

    In short, it doesn’t, which is why it is such a big environmental issue. Most recycling bins do not accept styrofoam — most especially because any container that still has food or liquid residue in it is considered contaminated and therefore usually cannot be recycled.

    Styrofoam does not biodegrade or compost. It can take anywhere from 500 years to never for a styrofoam cup to decompose. If styrofoam is accidentally burned during the recycling process, it emits a toxic chemical called styrene gas.

    Exposure to both styrene and styrene gas can result in changes of the lining of the nose, damage to the liver, and impaired learning. {These observations are the results of studies in animals only.} Other common health concerns in people exposed to styrene revolve around the nervous system. Styrene exposure can cause changes in color vision, exhaustion, feeling drunk, slowed reaction time, difficulty concentrating, and balance problems. As observed in laboratory animals, high levels of styrene exposure can also lead to hearing loss and damage to sperm in men. The Department of Health and Human Services {DHHS}, the National Toxicology Program {NTP}, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer {IARC} both list styrene as an anticipated carcinogen.

    Read More: Hoboken Composting: Everything You Need to Know

    Sustainable Alternatives to Styrofoam

    Is there a better, more sustainable alternative to styrofoam? The good news is, yes. Nanowood is a newer alternative developed at the University of Maryland. Nanowood comes from trees and is made with sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide. Like styrofoam, it has insulating properties, so it can keep things warm just as efficiently.

    The chemicals in nanowood remove the cell walls, leaving behind the nanofibers of cellulose.

    Nanowood is created from extra wood that’s mixed with cheap chemicals like sodium hydroxide and hydrogen peroxide. These chemicals take out the cell walls and leave nanofibers of cellulose, or nanowood. Nanowood is like styrofoam in many ways except that is 100% biodegradable.

    mushroom material bowl styrofoam

    Bowl made out of sustainable mushroom material.

    {Photo credit: @serafinelly}

    Other alternatives to styrofoam include Bamboo Fiber Eco Bowl, EarthAware™ Biodegradable Packing Materials, EarthShell “Paper” Plates, Edible Packing Peanuts, InCycle® Cups, Mushroom Material, Peat Plastic, and Plantable Packaging.

    Other Styrofoam Bans Around the Country

    New York and New Jersey are hardly the first states to propose {and execute} styrofoam bans. Many U.S. cities have at least a partial ban on styrofoam and states like NJ and NY are following in the footsteps of California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

    What’s your take on the proposed styrofoam ban?

    Let us know in the comments below!


    Written by:

    Steph Osmanski is a freelance writer who specializes in sustainability and health and wellness content. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton.


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