N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg calls for ban on polystyrene foam containers


The billionaire mayor who has fought smoking, large-size sugary drinks and excessive fat and salt announced on Thursday that he will now target Styrofoam, seeking to ban the product used for take-out — and leftover — fare.

In his 12th and last State of the City address, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he will seek to have the City Council ban polystyrene foam, the ubiquitous, lightweight packaging colloquially known by the brand name Styrofoam. The product has long been criticized by environmentalists because it seems to last forever, easily outliving most anything organic.

“One product that is virtually impossible to recycle and never biodegrades is Styrofoam,” Bloomberg said in his annual speech. It is “something that we know is environmentally destructive, that is costing taxpayers money, and that is easily replaceable.

“I think it is something we can do without,” Bloomberg said. “And don’t worry: The doggie bag and the coffee cup will survive just fine.”

The city estimates about 20,000 tons of the foam product are dumped into New York’s waste stream every year, adding an estimated $20 a ton to the cost of recycling because it must be handled separately. Bloomberg’s proposal now goes to the City Council where a similar ban has been stalled in recent years even though some cities on the environmentally conscious West Coast have moved toward full or partial bans.

The ban is part of an environmental program that Bloomberg, a lame duck, put forward. He called for more parking spaces and more vehicle chargers — both for electric cars. He also called for doubling the city’s recycling rate to 30 percent by 2017.

In his speech, given at the Barclays Center arena in Brooklyn, Bloomberg stressed that the city has never been stronger, repeating the formula that most chief executives use in giving their annual appraisal of their efforts. Among the milestones his aides have stressed in recent days is the record-low homicide rate of 419 (less than Chicago and about the same number as the much smaller Detroit); the record number of tourists; and the record number of private sector jobs.

Bloomberg, who is termed out this year, is known nationally for his efforts to curb gun violence, having funded and created a coalition of mayors, which has pushed for tougher gun control laws.

In terms of policy, Bloomberg will always be associated for his efforts in the public health field, earning him praise from activists and derision as a “nanny” mayor from opponents.

He pushed to limit the size of sugary drinks, sold principally by fast-food outlets, to 16 ounces. The limit is scheduled to go into effect next month, but is still being challenged by the beverage industry.

During his first term, Bloomberg successfully got a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, which has proven very popular even in a city where smoke-filled rooms were seen as a sine qua non. He also fought for a ban on trans fats, which makes French fries more than shoe-stringed shaped ballast. He also got a requirement for fast-food restaurants to post calorie information in large type, making public what was once tastefully hidden.

Much of Bloomberg’s speech dealt with economic development issues, but the mayor also noted Superstorm Sandy, which tore through the city and much of the metropolitan area in a deadly swath of destruction.

“We’ll take the same approach to the single most important piece of unfinished business that lies ahead of us in 2013: rebuilding the communities hit hardest by Hurricane Sandy—and creating a more resilient and sustainable city,” Bloomberg said.

“Forty-three New Yorkers lost their lives in that storm, and it’s up to us to do all we can to prevent that from happening again,” he insisted.

“This year, we’ll develop a long-term plan so that when extreme weather hits — we’ll be able to get the lights back on quickly and ensure that the heat keeps working, the gas stations stay open, the hospitals maintain power and the transportation system keeps operating.”

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