New York City’s Styrofoam Ban Dies (Unlike Actual Styrofoam)

New York City's Styrofoam Ban Dies (Unlike Actual Styrofoam)

A New York City judge has overturned a citywide Styrofoam ban.

After the Styrofoam ban went into effect on July 1, a number of local businesses sued the city, stating that the ban was political and would hurt their businesses. City restaurants and corner delis had until January 2016 to make the shift away from polystyrene (Styrofoam is a trade name).

But according to Justice Margaret Chan, who agreed with the business owners and overturned the Styrofoam ban, New Yorkers could be recycling the hazardous material, and saving the city nearly half a million dollars a year (even though polystyrene products only make up about 0.8 percent of city waste, or about 28,500 tons of the city’s trash going to landfills).

City officials aren’t happy with the ruling and plan to fight it. City Hall deputy press secretary Ishanee Parikh told the New York Post, “These [Styrofoam] products cause real environmental harm and we need to be able to prevent nearly 30,000 tons of expanded polystyrene waste from entering our landfills, streets, and waterways. We are reviewing our options to keep the ban in effect.”

Polystyrene poses human health issues by leaching styrene monomers into the food or beverages it comes in contact with—especially if those foods or liquids are hot. Exposure to styrene monomers, particularly on the production side, has been linked to skin and eye irritation, depression, kidney problems, breathing and gastrointestinal issues, headache, and fatigue. According to, Styrene residues are found in 100 percent of all samples of human fat tissue.

For the planet, the issues are even more concerning. Americans throw away about 25 billion Styrofoam cups every year, according to EPA data. Polystyrene is resistant to photolysis, which means that it is very, very difficult to break down. Check back in on your collection of Styrofoam coffee cups in a few hundred years (after that presumably long time-travel trip), and you’ll be able to refresh yourself with a cup of coffee in the exact same foam cup from today/500 years ago.

That is, of course, if there’s any water left on earth to make coffee with—the lightness of polystyrene products are creating massive floating hazards, taking heavy tolls on waterways and on marine life. But, at least, in the meantime, you can still find Styrofoam aplenty floating around in Manhattan.

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Styrofoam cup image via Shutterstock

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.