When city officials in the small town of Brookline, Massachusetts, which is near Boston, voted to implement a ban on polystyrene foam products in December of 2013 not a lot of attention was placed on the true effects a ban of this kind would have on the community’s business owners. Now that products made of this material are in the process of being removed from restaurants and eateries, Brookline businesses are beginning to feel unnecessary economic strain. Polystyrene foam, often mistakenly referred to as Styrofoam®, a registered trademark of the Dow Chemical Company, makes up many forms of the single-use foodservice items that consumers prefer, such as hot beverage cups and take-away food containers.
Most local restaurants and eateries oppose the ban on polystyrene foam items because having to make a switch to even the cheapest alternative product will have a negative effect on their bottom line. For instance, Chris Christakis of Brookline’s Busy Bee restaurant has been using foam clamshell take-away containers for years, and notes that the cost difference between his current foam products and the alternative is staggering. According to Christakis, the same volume of replacement items for foam containers will cost about 10 times more than what he is paying now. This increased cost of doing business must be either passed on to his customers, or through an adjustment to his business plan budget, which could mean cutting the hours or positions of his employees. Nearly one-third of the businesses affected by the Brookline foam ban have already been given a waiver to defer making the switch until the month of May, at which time they are able to apply for another waiver to use foam products through 2014.
The challenge many cities, such as Brookline, face is understanding how to responsibly remove polystyrene foam items from local waste streams while eliminating the economic impact placed on small businesses. Burdens caused by a complete Brookline or Boston foam ban could be eliminated with the implementation of a recycling program specific to polystyrene products. Dart Container Corporation, a manufacturer of foam items, works directly with several cities and organizations throughout the U.S. to develop area-specific programs which do just that. Dart helps different municipalities streamline their recycling process so that foam items are easily collected, then compressed to a fraction of their original size. The compressed foam is sent to manufacturers who reuse the mass as a material in new consumer products, such as architectural molding and picture frames. This approach to recycling polystyrene foam not only removes it from landfills and eliminates the economic burden on small businesses, but also helps to create a new consumer good for purchase.