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NYC Council Inches Closer To Banning Plastic Foam Food Containers

A food cart worker fills a plastic foam take-out container with food for a customer in New York City on Dec. 19, 2013. (credit: Getty Images)

A food cart worker fills a plastic foam take-out container with food for a customer in New York City on Dec. 19, 2013. (credit: Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York City lawmakers paved the way Thursday for an eventual ban on plastic foam containers.

The foam bill allows lawmakers to ban the product if, after a yearlong study, the commissioner of the Sanitation Department finds the material can’t be recycled effectively. If banned, it could add the nation’s largest city to a list of localities that prohibit the foam, which the food-service industry has long valued for keeping food warm or cool but environmentalists see as a landfill-clogging, litter-generating scourge.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who leaves office Dec. 31, indicated he will sign the polystyrene foam bill. The law would take effect four months after he signs it.

“Foam pollutes the waste stream, making it harder to recycle food waste as well as metal glass and plastic,” the mayor said in a statement after the vote.

“Once the ban takes effect, it will be much easier and more economical to collect and separate recyclables,” he added.

In a flurry activity in its last session, the City Council also approved a ban on electronic cigarettes and the creation of a website that will help the public track federal dollars budgeted for Superstorm Sandy-related damages.

At a news conference before the vote, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn warned against the environmental hazards of foam containers, particularly its presence in landfills, saying the only things that last longer than the foam containers are cockroaches and the performer Cher.

“If you could recycle it for real, that would be great,” said Quinn. “But we’re not going to wait forever to get the answer to that. If within a year a conclusion is not affirmative that foam can be recycled, it will be banned.”

New Yorkers toss out about 23,000 tons of plastic foam per year, accounting for a fraction of the 3 million tons of trash the city spends $310 million annually to bury, but city officials say the foam also muddies efforts to compost food waste.

San Francisco and dozens of other U.S. cities already have nixed takeout containers made from what’s technically called expanded polystyrene foam (the Styrofoam brand isn’t used in food packaging). It takes a long time to break down in landfills, and there’s debate over how readily it can be recycled once it’s soiled by food. City plastics recycling contractor Sims Municipal Recycling has said it can’t currently process and market plastic foam.

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(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)